CALUMET HEIGHTS — The owner of a California-based marijuana dispensary that plans to open on the South Side will face more than just the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday — two busloads of community members will show up to oppose the plan.
Jerry Brown, a member of the 8th Ward Accountability Coalition, said his group had several concerns about the safety and impact on "quality of life" of the dispensary, which is proposed for a former Social Security building at 1111 E. 87th St. in Calumet Heights, which borders Chatham.
The coalition also raised questions about the dispensary's ownership: In 2001, Harborside's director of operations Andrew DeAngelo's brother Steven pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
In an August interview with DNAinfo Chicago, Andrew DeAngelo defended his brother, saying he had paid his dues and that people should shift their focus from his brother’s mistake to the real issue — those who are sick.
“Steve is not involved in this project whatsoever,” he said. “This is my project, and while he is my older brother, we can all appreciate that sometimes our family members make mistakes, and sometimes [they] stray. What we have to do as a family is help heal those family members and help them go on the straight and narrow again.”
The coalition said that’s not good enough.
“That statement does not ease our fears or our concerns at all,” Brown said. “We’re not stupid people. [Steven DeAngelo] may not be be involved in it on paper, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that he’s not going to have some say so on what they do.”
Messages left with Harborside weren't immediately returned. Previously, the company said the dispensary would benefit the community by helping the sick and providing jobs.
Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) asserted her opposition to the proposal:
“This has been my mandate from the very start. If my community does not want it, then neither do I.
"As far as I’m concerned, it is a done deal — and please be very clear about this to everyone, this medical marijuana dispensary WILL NOT be located in the 8th Ward," the statement said.
City records, obtained by the 8th Ward Accountability Coalition through a Freedom of Information Act request, though, show that Harris gave her support to the dispensary coming to her ward before she met with the community.
In a letter dated May 27, sent to Jonathan Swain, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Harris wrote: “After very careful consideration, I support the Medical Cannabis Dispensary for the location at 1111 E. 87th St. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.”
Harris switched her position three months later. On Aug. 14, she sent another letter, this time saying she could no longer support the dispensary: “Input from the community to my office has been overwhelmingly against bringing the Medical Marijuana Dispensary to this location,” she wrote.
Multiple requests sent to Harris asking why she initially supported the proposal before withdrawing her support were not returned.
Though Harris and the coalition are now united in opposition to the dispensary, coalition members previously slammed Harris for not attending the group's meetings on the topic and not listening to community members. The most recent meeting was Saturday.
Harris said in a previous interview that she wasn’t able to attend the July 18 coalition meeting because she had to attend a funeral. Harborside CEO Lester Hollis also didn’t attend because he didn’t want to get into a “contentious” situation with the community, a spokeswoman said at the time.
Harris did host a community meeting at Olive Harvey College on Aug. 11 and attended a meeting addressing the dispensary proposal arranged by the Chatham Business Association.
“I have a history of listening to my community,” she said. “You can’t stay and continue to be an elected official when you do the exact opposite of what your community wants. I don’t want people to think the City Council snuck it in in the middle of the night,” she said.
Brown said sources told him that Harborside was looking at other locations, but DNAinfo Chicago was unable to independently confirm that assertion.
Brown will be joined by two busloads of supporters Friday at the zoning board hearing, he said. He’s working on getting a third bus.
“I’m pretty confident that they are not going to move forward, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going prepared,” he said. “We’re going prepared to support our position of opposing this place.”
A request to comment by Swain wasn’t immediately returned.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: