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Rejected Pot Clinic Gets Warmer Welcome on Southeast Side: 'We Need This'

By Jamie Nesbitt Golden | January 13, 2016 11:06am
 Harborside CEO Len Hollis address 10th Ward residents at the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 12, 2016.
Harborside CEO Len Hollis address 10th Ward residents at the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 12, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Jamie Nesbitt

SOUTH CHICAGO — Safety and community investment were among the concerns of two dozen residents who gathered at the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night for the first public meeting about what would be the South Side's first medical marijuana dispensary — just days before it goes up for city approval. 

If the proposal clears the Zoning Board of Appeals Friday, Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine hopes to set up shop in a former laundromat at 8554 S. Commercial Ave. 

The clinic, which Harborside said would be the first minority-owned dispensary in Chicago, had previously tried to open in at 1111 E. 87th St., but residents successfully fought against the plan, saying the clinic wasn't right for their community and they also objected to the ownership team. 

But the reaction at the meeting was generally warmer than at some of the heated meetings that took place when the clinic sought to open in the 8th Ward.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), who backs the plan, and the Harborside team were on hand Tuesday to assuage fears and discuss plans for neighborhood development. CEO Lester Hollis hopes to form a partnership with area residents and businesses.

"As the only dispensary on the South Side, we want to be good stewards," said Hollis as he addressed a packed storefront. 

Desiree Tate, director of community outreach for Harborside, claimed that plans to open the dispensary in Chatham fell through because of tensions between Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and her constituents.

"They had an issue with the alderman. It was politically motivated," claimed Tate.

While some longtime Southeast Side residents were receptive to the idea, others were worried that the business would shift crime into other parts of the neighborhood. 

"I think it's going to have an adverse effect on the neighborhood," said Rev. Ronald Spencer of the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. "We have an array of individuals who are involved in illegal drug dealing. How will it benefit the community?"

One resident worried that the clinic could attract criminals, but if they are unable to break in they might set their sights on residents.

"If the criminals can't get to you, they'll come to us," the resident said.

Tate stressed that Harborside is planning for a major "public education push" to explain their business, although no meetings are scheduled before it goes before the Zoning Board Friday.

"We are willing to go into the community to make sure they know what we're doing and to keep them informed," she said.

Patients interested in patronizing the facility will have to go through an extensive process to apply for a $150 medical cannabis card. Applicants will have to be fingerprinted, and undergo a criminal background check, neither of which is covered by insurance. 

Officials with a union representing workers in the food and drug retail industries praised the plan.

"This is a very needed industry and I welcome it," said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881 member and Alliance of the Southeast representative Moises Arrala. "Our union worked very hard in Springfield to pass this legislation, and we've been lucky to have partnerships with other dispensaries." Arrala added that he hoped to work with Harborside on health and safety training.

Others said that even though Harborside's original location was rejected in the 8th Ward, that doesn't mean it won't work in South Chicago.

"What is bad for the [8th Ward] may not be bad for the 10th," said longtime 10th Ward resident Christina Colon. "I grew up here, went to college, and came back to mentor gangbangers. This can help them get their lives straight. We need this. If it's not us, it's going to be in a neighborhood that's already rich."

Hollis said there will be plans in place to work with a private security company to increase safety in that corridor. 

Another resident raised concerns about the company hiring locally. Craig Moore, Harborside's manager of facility operations, promised the company would keep its promise to hire employees within the neighborhood, and he said the company was open to making ongoing contributions to the area.

"As long as it's legal and transparent, I'm on board," said Moore.

Ideas for the proposed site include a bright, welcoming decor and security built into the design in the form of large planters and man traps.

"Nothing is a done deal," said Ald. Garza. "If it becomes one, we'll get everything we want in writing."

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