Jefferson Park Medical Marijuana Community Meeting View Full Caption
JEFFERSON PARK — A proposal to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the heart of Jefferson Park drew fire — and some support — at a community meeting Monday night.
Curative Health, which is operated by Columbia Care, needs a special-use permit from city officials as well as a license from state officials to open a dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Nicholas Vita, the chief executive officer of Curative Health, said the company, which also operates dispensaries in Washington, D.C., Arizona and Massachusetts, had bought the now-vacant building and planned to completely renovate it into a dispensary protected by a state-of-the-art security system.
Heather Cherone says residents are worried about security, property value declines, and riff-raff coming to the neighborhood:
“This is not a head shop,” Vita told attendees of the neighborhood meeting at Congressional Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St.
But the proposal was criticized by several Jefferson Park residents who said they feared it would increase crime, decrease property values and endanger children using the playgrounds at Jefferson Park Memorial Park and Wilson Park as well as the Jefferson Park library.
Greg Sedlacek said he believed the dispensary would attract gang members looking to steal marijuana and cash.
“It is just a matter of time before they get in there,” Sedlacek said, dismissing Vita’s assurances that the dispensary’s low inventory and tough security would dissuade criminals from targeting it. “They’ll figure out a way, and it will be a bloodbath.”
Sedlacek’s remarks drew applause from the crowd, many of whom said they were concerned the dispensary would draw drug addicts to Jefferson Park.
But Vita said his New York-based firm’s “impeccable” track record in other states made the chance of significant problems unlikely. The dispensary will not feature identifying signs, he added.
“These are not kids looking for a good time,” Vita said. The company’s patients “are contributing members of society that had nowhere else to go. This dispensary will help people suffering from terrible diseases.”
Vita, who was the vice president of the healthcare department at Goldman Sachs’ investment bank, twice polled the crowd about whether they knew someone who had suffered from cancer, glaucoma or ALS — all illnesses he said marijuana may help ease.
Gayle Tucker, whose kitchen window overlooks the alley behind the proposed dispensary, said Vita’s presentation assuaged her concerns.
“I think this company will be a much better neighbor than the lending company that was there before,” Tucker said. “I feel better having heard this presentation. I don’t think it will be detrimental.”
Ald. John Arena said he had not decided whether to support Curative Health’s request for a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Typically, the board follow the recommendation of the alderman for projects in his or her ward.
“I want to continue this conversation and talk to more business owners in the area,” Arena said.
But Arena said Curative Health had “thoroughly” answered his questions about security at the dispensary, which he said was his biggest concern.
Curative Health, if awarded a license from the state, plans to partner with Illinois State University to not only study the effectiveness of medical marijuana but also the dispensary’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood, Vita said.
In addition, the company will make “an additional, substantial” investment in Jefferson Park after its permits and license are approved, Vita said. That would include donating a percentage of the dispensary’s net income to local organizations and nonprofits based on the alderman’s recommendation, he added.
The dispensary, if approved, would create between 12 and 16 jobs, and those employees would be trained at the firm’s other locations before starting in Jefferson Park, Vita said.
For the first 1½-2 years, the dispensary would likely serve no more than 10 patients a day and be open four or five hours a day, three days a week, Vita said.
At full strength, the dispensary could serve about a dozen patients a day, all of whom must be registered in the state-administered program and have a doctor’s prescription for one of about 40 illnesses. Patients must show that identification card twice before being allowed past the building’s lobby, Vita said.
Two doors south, EuFlora Health Center, which is based Downtown, has asked city officials for permission to open a dispensary at 4760½ N. Milwaukee Ave.
It is unlikely both dispensaries would be approved by state and city officials, Arena said.
The proposed dispensaries, which must be approved by city and state officials, would be on the same block as Arena’s 45th Ward office.
Arena said he and his staff would keep a “critical eye” on the dispensary’s operations if they opened near their office.
State officials have said they plan to issue no more than two licenses for dispensaries in Jefferson Township, which includes most of the Far Northwest Side.
A third application for a special permit in Jefferson Township and the 45th Ward has been made by California-based IL Grown Medicine at 4739 W. Montrose Ave. in Old Irving Park.
Dispensaries must be 1,000 feet from schools and daycare centers and can’t be in residences, according to city regulations. Thirteen of the 60 Illinois dispensaries can be in the city, according to state law.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to consider Curative Health’s proposal at its meeting Nov. 21.
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