Pot shop's zoning scuffle sets the tone for other dispensaries

Cresco Labs had a close call in winning approval to move its existing dispensary to a bigger space. Many aldermen say they intend to keep up the pressure on companies to bring in more minority partners.

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Bloomberg

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79彩票注册网址By the skin of its teeth, Cresco Labs won initial zoning approval to relocate its Lakeview medical marijuana dispensary, MedMar, to a larger space at 3500 N. Clark St. just weeks before recreational pot becomes legal in Illinois. It was a closely divided vote in the City Council’s Zoning Committee, following lengthy questioning over what the company had done to bring non-white entrepreneurs into the cannabis fold—pushback the committee chair expects for other dispensaries.

Cresco's move still faces a vote at the full City Council next week and another approval step from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. 

Chicago-based Cresco Labs President Joe Caltabiano and Barrington Rutherford, the company's senior vice president of community integration, took the bulk of the questions from aldermen who quizzed them on what they were doing to include non-white participation in the business. Cresco officials said they’d launched an incubator program to help 150 individuals meet the state’s social equity requirements, including help writing applications. They’d also sponsored expungement events, contributed to Cabrini Green Legal Aid and are working on a workforce development program, internships and scholarships with Chicago State University.

79彩票注册网址“Everyone has struggled” to create social equity programs that work, Rutherford said.

79彩票注册网址But aldermen were frustrated that officials could not name the number of non-white or female Cresco investors, and said the company hadn’t done enough work in other states to include minorities.

“You’ve been around for a while. What have you been doing to help minorities or social equity people all this other time you’ve been in business?" said West Side Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th. "It’s just disingenuous what you all are saying here. I understand you want to make your money, man—just give up some. Just give the brothers a piece, that’s all.”

79彩票注册网址“You’re beating a dead horse there, Alderman,” Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, said, voicing doubt that minority participation would ever meet the minimum standards set by the state. “Hopefully you guys will take to heart what this body is saying . . . right the wrong that has hurt our community.”

In a statement, Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes said the company is “happy that we received approval today for the required zoning for our dispensary and stand with the alderman that expressed diversity concerns." He pointed to the firm's SEED program, which he said is the largest social equity incubator in Illinois, with more than 150 participants.

Last week, aldermen held a subject matter hearing on an effort to halt recreational sales in Chicago until July, 79彩票注册网址decrying the lack of black ownership among existing dispensaries that will have the chance to sell in the new year and open up an additional facility.

On the vote to approve Cresco's move: Besides Beale and Burnett, Aldermen Pat Dowell, 3rd, Raymond Lopez, 15th, and Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, voted "no" today. Seven aldermen voted in favor.

79彩票注册网址“This process has met with the support of the community,” Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, said. The MedMar facility is in his ward. He described these initial approvals as the “first inning” in a long road to get equity in the state’s new recreational marijuana program. 

But as chairman of the Zoning Committee, Tunney predicted pushback for other dispensaries that come to the council for approvals. 

79彩票注册网址“I have a feeling, procedural-wise, if there’s this much concern, especially with our African American caucus, that (MedMar’s application) could be deferred” when it comes to a full City Council vote later this month, Tunney said. He's concerned this meeting might be a precedent for opposition to all dispensaries seeking permissions, but cautioned colleagues that the solution to equity concerns lies in Springfield. 

79彩票注册网址Burnett said other zoning applicants would probably face the same—and potentially more—heated questioning from him and his colleagues. “We just need to send a message to these guys. They need to feel the threat that it’s a possibility that people might not want to vote for this thing. . . .They need to do a little bit more.”

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