I am writing regarding a proposal for a medical cannabis (a/k/a marijuana) dispensary at 1930 W. Chase (at Rogers). The proposal requires the City Council to change the zoning on the property from its current B-1 designation to B-3. The proposal also requires a special use permit from the City of Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals.
A rendering of the proposed clinic is on the right and an aerial view is below.
I sponsored a community meeting in September at which Bob Kingsley, owner of 420 Capital Management, presented his proposal for Greengate Compassion Center, a clinic that would provide medical marijuana to persons who have been diagnosed with any one of forty debilitating medical conditions.
Approximately 100 people attended the meeting, with about half of the attendees expressing support for the proposal and half registering opposition. In addition, my office received 49 emails from 49th Ward residents expressing views on the proposal, with supporters of the proposal outnumbering opponents by a three-to-one margin.
Any zoning or land use issue in the 49th Ward that requires my support and/or approval undergoes an extensive evaluation process that starts with a review by the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee, a committee of neighborhood residents and representatives of the major community organizations in the Ward. The Committee reviewed the proposal at two separate meetings and voted unanimously to recommend I support the proposed project.
After careful consideration of the Committee’s recommendation and the opinions and suggestions of the community residents who attended the meeting or corresponded with my office, I have decided to SUPPORT the proposed zoning amendment and the application for a special use permit.
However, the City Council, the Zoning Board of Appeals and I do not have the final say on the project. Even if the zoning amendment and special use application are granted, Mr. Kingsley still must receive final approval from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Below is some background information on the law regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, the details of the proposal, and my reasons for supporting it:
The Law Regarding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which was enacted in 2013, allows persons who are diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition to obtain access to marijuana for medical use. The qualifying patient must obtain a written certification from a physician specifying their debilitating condition and register with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Debilitating conditions include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and rheumatoid arthritis.
For a complete list of debilitating conditions that could qualify a patient to receive medical marijuana, click here.
Only licensed dispensaries, registered and authorized by the State of Illinois, may sell medical marijuana. The law allows for up to 60 marijuana dispensaries dispersed throughout the State of Illinois. To date, 47 dispensaries are licensed and operating in the state, including six in Chicago and one in Evanston. For a list of current licensed and operating dispensaries, click here.
State law prohibits a medical marijuana dispensary from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or licensed day care provider. Municipalities are free to place additional restrictions on dispensaries. In Chicago, city zoning code allows dispensaries only in certain downtown zoning districts and zoning districts classified B-3 or C. The dispensary must also obtain a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The prohibition on locating dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school or licensed day care provider makes it extremely difficult to locate dispensaries, especially in densely populated urban neighborhoods such as Rogers Park.
Below is a map of the 49th Ward. The shaded circles indicate areas where a dispensary is prohibited either because of a nearby school and/or day care center. As the map indicates, the vast majority of parcels in the ward are within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center and hence off limits for a dispensary. This includes nearly every commercial street, with the exception of Devon Avenue and a one-block portion of Morse Avenue and a one-quarter-block portion of Clark Street. The proposed dispensary location is marked by a yellow star on the map:
The proposed medical marijuana dispensary would be established exclusively for the purpose of dispensing marijuana to individuals who have a debilitating medical condition for which marijuana may offer some relief and who the Illinois Department of Public Health certifies to receive the drug. Only fully registered patients would be allowed in the facility.
All marijuana must be sold in a sealed packaged in the designated amounts. The patients must take the marijuana home to consume. Consumption of marijuana is strictly prohibited in and around the facility, including the parking lot. Each transaction is verified in real time with the State of Illinois.
City ordinance requires at least one armed guard on site. Mr. Kingsley states he plans to use off-duty sheriff’s deputies. The officers will retain their police powers whereby they can legally arrest anyone for cause. Security cameras will cover every inch of the clinic’s interior, exterior and parking lot. The cameras will provide a live feed to Illinois State Police. The license plate of every car that enters the clinic parking lot will be photographed and recorded.
Mr. Kingsley will install a high-grade security vault for cash and medicine. An armored car will collect the cash on at least a daily basis. All deliveries will be made to a private, fenced-in “employee only” entrance. An inventory of the product will be taken twice a day and any errors will be reported immediately to the State of Illinois.
In response to concerns expressed at the community meeting regarding the safety and well-being of customers, Mr Kingsley, the dispensary owner, agreed to install a video screen inside the facility so that patients can know when the next Pace and CTA buses will arrive. Mr. Kingsley also agreed to provide personnel who will walk patients to their cars or the bus stop. And he agreed to provide free Uber service to patients in the Rogers Park and West Ridge communities to ensure their safe passage to and from the dispensary.
Finally, he agreed to work with a local landscape architect, who provided his services free of charge to ensure the dispensary would be an attractive asset to the community.
I accept the 49th Wards Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee’s recommendation that I support the proposed medical marijuana dispensary.
The proposed dispensary will perform a vital service and provide much-needed relief to Rogers Park residents suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Twenty-eight states, including Illinois, now allow the sale of marijuana for medical purposes, recognizing that it is a proven and effective treatment for a variety of debilitating medical conditions. It is far less harmful and poses fewer negative side effects than most prescription drugs–especially painkillers–that are available at any Walgreen’s, CVS or Osco drug store. And patients often find medical marijuana to be a more effective treatment.
Rogers Park residents suffering from debilitating illnesses, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, should not be required to leave the neighborhood to obtain medicine that will provide them with relief from their symptoms.
The proposed location is on a site that was home for many years to Rogers Pantry, a convenience store that primarily sold packaged liquor. Rogers Pantry went out of business several years ago and the building has been standing empty ever since, serving as a blight on the neighborhood (see photo on right).
The proposed dispensary represents a vast improvement to the previous use of the site. Unlike the Rogers Pantry, which sold alcohol to any adult, the dispensary’s clientele is limited to people suffering from debilitating illnesses who are pre-screened by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Scientific studies show no correlation between medical marijuana dispensaries and crime.
Those objecting to the dispensary express fear that the dispensary would be a magnet for crime. The neighborhood experienced some shootings, robberies and burglaries over the last several months and people are understandably and justifiably concerned about these criminal activities. I take these concerns very seriously, which is why I devoted considerable time the last few weeks researching the effect of marijuana dispensaries on crime rates.
If I deny an otherwise lawful business a zoning change to operate because of crime concerns, that denial must be based on facts, not fear and supposition. Fortunately, we have a lot of research to draw upon. Over half the states legalized the sale of medical marijuana before Illinois undertook the step, and nearly every one of those states have laws more liberal than Illinois’ very restrictive law. And two states–Colorado and Washington–took the additional step of legalizing the sale of marijuana without requiring a medical purpose.
The overwhelming number of scientific studies show no demonstrable connection between the operation of a dispensary and the rate of crime. A few studies even indicate a dispensary may make a neighborhood safer.
Below is a representative sample of the studies and analyses I uncovered:
Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Their Effect on Crime, Marijuana Policy Project
“In what should not come as a surprise, given the robust security at most medical marijuana facilities, these studies have routinely shown that, contrary to these concerns, dispensaries are not magnets for crime. Instead, these studies suggest that dispensaries are no more likely to attract crime than any other business, and in many cases, by bringing new business and economic activity to previously abandoned or run-down retail spaces, dispensaries actually contribute to a reduction in crime.”
Exploring the Ecological Association Between Crime and Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
In a study of medical marijuana dispensaries in Sacramento, California, neighborhoods with medical marijuana were no more likely to have crime than other neighborhoods. The Study further found dispensaries that utilized specific security features (having security cameras, requiring a marijuana recommendation identification card) had lower violent crime within 100 and 250 feet of the dispensary.
A “central finding” from a comprehensive national study of the effect of medical marijuana laws on crime determined that medical marijuana legislation “is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault. Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. Although, this is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.”
Study Casts Doubt that Pot Shops Harm Neighborhoods, Health News Colorado
“Researchers who expected to find that medical marijuana dispensaries harm neighborhoods discovered that that’s not the case so far in Denver, according to a new study. ‘Everybody is saying that these things are undesirable. If that’s the case, it’s certainly not showing up in the data,’ said one the study authors, Paul Stretesky, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. . . . Stretesky said he personally opposed legalized marijuana and figured pot shops would cause inequities. ‘We dug and dug and didn’t find any evidence,’ he said.”
“A Denver Police Department analysis estimates that medical- marijuana dispensaries in the city were robbed or burglarized at a lower rate last year than either banks or liquor stores. The analysis — contained in a memo authored by Division Chief Tracie Keesee for Denver City Council members — finds that the projected robbery and burglary rate for storefront dispensaries in 2009 was on par with that of pharmacies.”
LAPD Chief: Pot Clinics not Plagued by Crime, Los Angeles Daily News
“Despite neighborhood complaints, most medical marijuana clinics are not typically the magnets for crime that critics often portray, according to Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck. ‘Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,’ Beck said at a recent meeting with editors and reporters of the Los Angeles Daily News. Opponents of the pot clinics complain that they attract a host of criminal activity to the neighborhoods, including robberies. But a report that Beck recently had the department generate looking at citywide robberies in 2009 found that simply wasn’t the case. ‘I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra,’ said Beck. ‘It doesn’t really bear out.'”
The findings of these studies are borne out by anecdotal evidence from my Chicago City Council colleagues who have medical marijuana clinics in their wards.
Two clinics are located on the City’s southwest side near Midway Airport, an area represented by 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke. Another is located in the Wicker Park neighborhood represented by 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno. A fourth is located on the City’s northwest side in an area represented by 45th Ward Alderman John Arena and a fifth is located in the Andersonville neighborhood (see photo on left) represented by 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar.
Each of these aldermen report to me they have heard no complaints nor experienced any problems with the medical marijuana dispensaries in their wards.
A sixth medical marijuana dispensary opened just a few weeks ago on the City’s far northwest side and it is too early to examine its impact on the surrounding community.
Our neighbor to the north, the City of Evanston, also has a medical marijuana dispensary. Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl informed me that her city has received no complaints about the dispensary nor experienced any uptick in crime resulting from the clinic.
Despite the absence of any evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries pose a greater threat to the safety of the neighborhood than a bank or pharmacy, Mr. Kingsley, the owner of the proposed dispensary, agreed to the following additional measures to protect the safety of his customers leaving his facility:
- Install a video screen inside the facility so that patients can know when the next Pace and CTA buses will arrive;
- Provide personnel who will walk patients to their cars or the bus stop; and
- Provide free Uber service to patients in the Rogers Park and West Ridge communities to ensure their safe passage to and from the dispensary.
Based on the overwhelming scientific evidence and the additional steps Mr. Kingsley promises to make to alleviate any lingering concern about his clients’ safety, it is extremely unlikely the dispensary will result in an increase in crime or reduction in the value of property in the immediate neighborhood.
Most medical marijuana dispensaries in Chicago co-exist safely with residential dwelling units.
A number of residents argue that the proposed dispensary is incompatible with the primarily residential area, arguing that it is better suited for a commercial street. The site for the proposed dispensary, however, has been zoned for a business use as long as anyone remembers. As I note above, a liquor store occupied the site for many years and commercial enterprises existed across the street, as well. It is not as though a business is being introduced to an area that was bereft of business uses.
Moreover, there is no evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries are incompatible in residential neighborhoods. In fact, most medical marijuana dispensaries in Chicago are immediately adjacent to either single family homes or apartment buildings with no adverse effect on the quality of life of those who reside in those dwelling units.
In Andersonville, a residential apartment building is located immediately behind the medical marijuana dispensary at 5001 N. Clark. In Wicker Park, residential apartment units are located immediately next door to the dispensary at 2847 W. Fullerton. On Chicago’s far northwest side, an apartment building is located immediately next door to a dispensary at 6428 N. Milwaukee. And on the city’s southwest side, a single family home is next door to the dispensary at 4570 N. Archer and apartment buildings surround a dispensary at 5648 S. Archer.
Rogers Park is a bedroom community. Almost every block in Rogers Park contains at least a few residential units, even our commercial streets. We do not have any large commercial or industrial districts where a dispensary could be hidden away. The only arguable exception is the Gateway Shopping Center, but a dispensary cannot be located there, as the entire center falls within a buffer zone. In fact because of its density, nearly 90% of the 49th Ward falls inside a buffer zone.
The options for locating a dispensary in the 49th Ward are quite limited. To insist that a dispensary be located only in areas bereft of residential dwelling units is simply not realistic in Rogers Park nor most Chicago neighborhoods.
The 1,000-foot buffer zone does not apply to parks.
Other opponents take issue with the dispensaries proximity to Pottawattomie Park. Again, it should be noted that sales at the dispensary would be limited to people with demonstrable serious medical conditions, not casual users who might walk across the street to smoke weed in the park.
Furthermore, if the members of the Illinois General Assembly meant to include parks and playgrounds in the 1,000-foot buffer zone, they certainly could have done so. Pottawattomie Park is no different from any other urban park in the State of Illinois.
Indeed, if parks were included in the buffer zone, the 49th Ward, and probably most other wards in the City, would be entirely off limits to medical marijuana dispensaries.
Because of marijuana’s classification for generations as an illegal narcotic, many are understandably leery about a medical marijuana clinic near their home. I understand their concern. But the facts are the facts and the overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that marijuana is safer than the alcohol and tobacco that once were sold on the property and certainly far safer than the opioids that can be purchased at the Clark and Rogers Walgreens, just a block away.
It bears repeating that the proposed dispensary is not a “pot store” open to the general public, but rather a medical clinic with a defined clientele of people who need the drug to alleviate their chronic medical conditions.
A responsible elected official should make decisions based on facts, not unfounded fear and supposition. The facts show that medical marijuana offers real relief to people who need it and the clinics that dispense the medication have no deleterious impact on the surrounding community. For these reasons, I support the zoning relief that will make it possible for the applicant to apply to the State of Illinois for a medical marijuana dispensary license.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to attend the community meeting and/or express their views on the proposed medical marijuana dispensary. Our community is filled with people who care passionately about their community. It is one of our Ward’s greatest strengths.
If you have any questions or further comments regarding my decision, please feel free to reply to this email.