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Medical Marijuana Clinic Does Not Belong Near Superdawg, Residents Say

 City officials are scheduled to decide whether to allow the dispensary to open Aug. 21.
Union Group of Illinois
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NORWOOD PARK — A medical marijuana dispensary should not be allowed to open near Superdawg, according to a majority of Norwood Park residents who spoke at a community meeting Thursday night.

Union Group of Illinois wants to open a dispensary in a vacant storefront at 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Ave. The firm was one of two groups to win a state license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Jefferson Township, which includes most of the Far Northwest Side.

Many in the standing-room-only crowd at Olympia Park, 6566 N. Avondale Ave., said the dispensary would make the already congested intersection of Nagle, Devon and Milwaukee avenues worse, attract criminals to the area and lower the value of their homes.

"This is not the right location," said Mary Laurent, who lives within walking distance of the proposed dispensary and homeschools her 10 children. "I don't want this experiment where my kids play."

Some of Laurent's children brought hand-lettered signs and banners objecting to the sale of marijuana in Norwood Park.

John Davis, one of three partners in Union Group of Illinois, said the dispensary would be a "good neighbor and a revenue generator" if approved by city officials. The dispensary would be run by Maria Kunz, who owns a home health care business in Skokie.

"We don't want to be a burden to the community," Davis said. "We want to benefit the community."

City officials postponed a vote on the proposal in May at the request of Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), who said Norwood Park residents need more information about the project and more time to weigh its merits and drawbacks.

At the first community meeting held to discuss the project in April, many objected to the plan to transform the vacant storefront into a dispensary, shouting down those who praised the proposed dispensary as a way for the seriously ill to get access to life-changing medicine.

A show of hands revealed that the crowd Thursday night was close to evenly split between opponents and supporters of the proposal. Only one person who spoke at the meeting said they supported it because it would mean access to medicine for ill relatives.

Napolitano, elected in April to the City Council, repeatedly reminded the at-times boisterious crowd to be respectful.

Michael Froelich, an attorney representing Union Group, said the dispensary would help only "genuinely sick people" vetted by state officials, not "stoner kids."

But Froelich's remarks were drowned out at one point by derisive shouts and catcalls when he pointed out the proximity of several pharmacies in the area that sell powerful narcotics, such as oxycontin.

Tony Chiavola, a construction worker, said the location of the proposed dispensary was too close to the Caldwell Woods Forest Preserves, where educational programs for children are held.

"We take pride in our neighborhood," Chiavola said. "It is a bad location."

When Froelich asked if opponents would rather see the building remain vacant, many shouted that they would prefer that it remain empty, openly scoffing at his claims that the dispensary would make the area safer.

The dispensary would employ 10 people, and Union Group officials said it would donate 4 percent of its profits to "local charities and civic groups." The dispensary is expected to bring in $1.6 million in profit in its first year, which would mean $64,000 for local groups, company officials said.

The operators of the proposed dispensary said they would go above and beyond what state law allows to ensure the facility operates safely and discreetly.

"Your eye will slide right over the building unless you are looking for it," Froelich said. "There will be no marijuana leaves, nothing that says 4-20."

While the zoning board frequently follows the recommendation of aldermen when deciding whether to approve or reject projects in their ward, it does not always do so. Napolitano, who has said he would not want his three children to grow up near a dispensary, said his recommendation would be based on the will of residents.

If approved, the dispensary would operate from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. every day, and be patrolled around the clock by armed guards using a state-of-the-art camera system, officials said.

In addition to adding 21 parking spaces, Union Group plans to build a secure garage to allow marijuana to be delivered to the facility and cash removed. Otherwise, the 21,500-square-foot building would remain unchanged, officials said.

Only members of the dispensary allowed by the state to use medical marijuana for a host of illnesses such as cancer and glaucoma would be allowed inside the facility after showing two forms of identification, officials said.

The proposed dispensary would be 2.6 miles from the other medical marijuana dispensary on the Far Northwest Side near Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues. Curative Health has the approval of both the state of city to open a dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave., but has yet to open.

Another community meeting about the Norwood Park medical marijuana dispensary is set for 6:30 p.m. July 23 at Oriole Park, 5430 N. Olcott Ave.

Napolitano said he was working to schedule an additional meeting with Union Group officials, and residents of the 41st Ward could visit his office at 7442 N. Harlem Ave. and register their opinion on the proposal.

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