NORWOOD PARK — The Union Group of Illinois has cleared nearly two years' worth of neighborhood resistance and political roadblocks to open the city's sixth medical marijuana dispensary in Norwood Park.
Dozens of nearby residents and prospective patients on Friday filed through the small, freshly-renovated office at the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Devon Avenue, kitty corner from Superdawg, to meet the staff and check out their products during an afternoon-long open house event.
Listen to Alex chat about the concerns over the new dispensary.
It was a long time coming for the dispensary's director, Dmitrey Stebley, who said he started putting together plans for the shop as soon as medicinal marijuana was legalized in Illinois in August 2013.
"We were excited right from the beginning to participate in one of the newest and fastest-growing industries in the nation," Stebley said. "But at the same time, this is not a new technology. People have been using cannabis in a medical way for thousands of years."
Stebley proudly stood before a glass case displaying dozens of candies, oils and creams, each marked with a number showing their concentration of THC, the active chemical in marijuana.
"The complication is that in our memory, people only used cannabis for getting high," Stebley said. "But with these kinds of edible applications we've come to realize they can be effective for helping people sleep, improve their appetites or relieve pain."
The offerings only became available after a drawn-out, sometimes contentious political process. When Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) was elected during the early application process last spring, he came out against the proposal, citing broad opposition on the part of its would-be neighbors.
The alderman was furious after the city's Zoning Board of Appeals rubber-stamped the proposal in January, calling it an act of political retribution for his vote against Rahm Emanuel's property tax increases.
Napolitano still has reservations about the dispensary, said Chris Vittorio, the alderman's chief of staff.
"There's a real security concern when you're talking about a controlled substance being sold in a cash-only business," Vittorio said. "And it's not allowed to be anywhere near a school, but it is right across the street from the Caldwell Woods, and there are kids there all the time."
Napolitano didn't show up to Friday's open house because of a "prior engagement," Vittorio said, but many other community members, including Tony Bilous, poked inside and checked out the dispensary's offerings.
Bilous had already been getting marijuana prescriptions filled at another outpost in suburban Addison, he said, but he was excited about the prospect of having an option closer to home to treat chronic pain issues.
"I had been using pharmaceuticals for a while, but I found a lot of times they just make you sicker, and you need another prescription for the side effects," Bilous said. "I found cannabis as another option, and not only did it work better, but it helped me sleep and concentrate better, depending on what I was using."
"The best thing about it is that you know exactly what you're getting, and what it can help you with," he added. "You don't have to trust someone giving you something on the street."
In order to legally use marijuana in Illinois, patients need to apply for a registration card through the state's Department of Public Health. The process is more tightly-regulated than in most other states with medicinal marijuana programs, but Bilous said getting the card was "easier than you'd think."
But as the industry continues to shake off restrictions around the country, with California and two other states voting to legalize the drug for recreational use Tuesday, Union Group sales agent Antonio Salvato said he hopes to see more patients get access.
"We're seeing a lot more doctors start to look at cannabis as an option to treat more conditions and diseases, and it's really encouraging," Salvato said. "This is a new kind of therapy, and the possibilities are endless."
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