CITY HALL — A strip club owner's plan to open Chicago's first medical marijuana farm is closer to becoming a reality.
The Zoning Board of Appeals took the first step toward approving a Chicago "cultivation center for medical marijuana" Friday, giving the OK to a proposal from city trucking and strip-club magnate Perry Mandera.
Mandera, who owns the Custom Companies trucking and Cardinal Fitness, as well as VIP's, which touts itself as the city's only "full liquor and topless bar," at 1531 N. Kingsbury St., wants to open the cultivation center in Hegewisch.
In a marathon session that ran from Friday morning into the evening, the board also approved a permit for a Custom Strains dispensary for medical marijuana at 1105 W. Fulton Market, over some community resistance.
The two facilities still must earn state approval as Illinois implements the medical-marijuana law passed last year. The city will have a maximum of one cultivation center (or pot farm) and 13 dispensaries.
The cultivation center was the first to earn a special-use permit. It would be located on an eight-acre site at 12233 S. Avenue O, between Wolf Lake and the Calumet River, but also near Interstates 90, 94 and 57. It would produce an estimated 4,500 pounds of medical marijuana per year, as well as processing it into topical oil and edible forms for ease of use by patients.
Mandera testified Friday that he was bringing in experts experienced in the field from Colorado and Michigan, where medical marijuana has long been legal, to run the center, and that his own background in trucking would aid in distribution to dispensaries.
The board was somewhat squeamish in approving its first permit for a cultivation center.
"If I had sticky fingers ... how does the system catch me?" Chairman Jonathan Swain said. "That's my largest concern."
Brett Roper, of Colorado's Medicine Man Technologies, testified that the Bio Track system follows plants from seedlings to finished product with weights down to the gram and beyond. "You typically know pretty quickly," Roper said, if there's any "pilferage."
Robert Gedville, of Guardian Security Systems, said the facility would have 110 surveillance cameras, linked to the State Police and the state Department of Agriculture.
Earlier in the day, Mandera testified that he has run Custom Companies since 1986 and Cardinal Fitness for 21 years. He acknowledged he owns a business with a liquor license and a public entertainment license, but never mentioned it was a strip club, and the board never raised the issue. He said he had never been arrested or convicted of a crime, and has never had a business fail or filed for bankruptcy for any business.
Mandera said that, if the dispensary were approved, he'd offer a 10 percent discount for veterans on all medical marijuana. Mandera said he served in the Marine Corps.
Hunter Sutterfield, who would be brought in from running a dispensary in Tempe, Ariz., to handle the operation, testified that prices were typically $50 for an eighth of an ounce or or 3.5 grams, $20-$30 for a gram, consistent with "street value" by state statute.
The "intent," they said, was to use the Custom Strains cultivation center if approved.
The cultivation center had the support of Ald. John Pope (10th), but the Fulton Market dispensary met some public resistance before it won approval from the board.
Six dispensaries' permits were approved Friday, including a permit for a Jefferson Park facility, as well as dispensaries at 4568 S. Archer Ave., 5648 S. Archer Ave., 2723 N. Elston Ave. and 500 W. 18th St. The board denied a permit for a Wicker Park dispensary at 1811 W. North Ave. after questioning the applicants on what Swain called "subjective" security arrangements.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: