CITY HALL — Chicago's first three proposed medical marijuana dispensaries gained city permits Friday, but the discussion on one application was postponed until next month by a prominent alderman who has previously made clear he wants to limit medical marijuana "in an extreme degree."
The three that earned special-use permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals Friday included a Wicker Park dispensary at 1368 N. Milwaukee Ave., a West Loop dispensary at 955 W. Lake St. and an Avondale dispensary at 3541 N. Elston Ave. All were endorsed by the Department of Planning and Development, and all were approved unanimously.
Yet four proposed dispensaries were on the agenda Friday for the Zoning Board of Appeals, which has been assigned the task of issuing special-use permits for the 13 possible dispensaries in the city limits.
A proposed dispensary to be operated by Maribis of Chicago at 4568 S. Archer Ave. in Archer Heights had its hearing continued to next month at the request of Ald. Edward Burke (14th), according to board Chairman Jonathan Swain.
Burke has previously said he wants to limit medical marijuana "in an extreme degree," and has previously sought additional security measures for dispensaries that pot proponents have called "onerous."
Burke did not respond to requests for comment.
All have to clear final logistics with the city and state before opening for business, a process complicated by the uneven process, as government agencies have yet to settle on a single cultivation center for Cook County to stock the dispensaries for medical cannabis.
The board sometimes seemed squeamish about the nascent industry, with Sheila O'Grady addressing the stigma by comparing them to methadone clinics and saying they're not like a Walgreens opening down the block, at least in the minds of most city residents.
Yet pharmacist Barry Golin, chief executive officer of the proposed Wicker Park dispensary at 1368 N. Milwaukee Ave., took issue with that.
"Marijuana does not belong in the same category as heroin," Golin said. "It is not nearly as addictive as drugs we disperse every day."
Golin said he viewed it as an "adjunct to the pharmacy business," adding, "This is what we do. This is what we're trained to do, and we do it every day."
All three dispensaries that went through with their hearings Friday testified they met tight, state- and city-mandated security requirements, including bulletproof transaction windows, vaults for both cash and marijuana, video surveillance and so-called man traps, blocking both entrance to and exit from secure areas, as well as secure and enclosed delivery areas.
Swain asked what they were doing to keep customers from "getting their heads knocked in" on leaving the premises. All offered security guards to escort patients outside.
"The product is perceived as something more attractive to criminals," said Zvi Kremer, security agent for the Avondale dispensary. Yet all testified that the increased security made them no more dangerous to surrounding areas than banks or jewelry stores.
Golin said he was still working to arrange business deals with banks to allow credit and debit cards and keep it from being a cash-only business, but both other dispensaries said they had already arranged such deals with banks.
"We're all learning to go with this," Swain said, adding that "as things get clarified" in the business the monetary snags and other complications would likely be smoothed out.
Proponents of medical cannabis have argued it serves a purpose for those with debilitating illnesses, and that the state law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.
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