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Vote for pot company’s plan to set up at old Rainforest Cafe drags out

A zoning board vote to approve a cannabis dispensary at the former Rainforest Cafe in River North dragged out Friday evening, with action delayed amid a resident’s presentation and repeated questioning of the weed firm’s plan.

The hours-long meeting held by the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals had not concluded as of 10:30 p.m. because of questioning by Robert Brown, a nearby resident of the proposed dispensary at 605 N. Clark St., which came after his passionate plea to dismiss the application altogether was denied.

Brown argued the clouted pot firm’s application didn’t qualify as a social equity firm under state law.

Progressive Treatment Solutions, the company proposing the dispensary, has endured several obstacles on its way to approval.

State law prohibits dispensaries from opening within 1,500 feet of an existing pot shop unless it’s owned by a social equity applicant, a legislative effort to increase minority ownership in the business.

Four existing dispensaries are within 1,500 feet of the 605 N. Clark St. location where PTS plans to open the weed store, and the company didn’t qualify as a social equity firm.


Rendering of a proposed cannabis dispensary at the site of the old Rainforest Cafe, 605 N. Clark St.

Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals

The company later teamed up with a social equity firm, BioPharm, which was awarded a conditional license in a state-run lottery. BioPharm qualifies as a social equity firm because chief operating officer Kevin Munroe’s father, Michael Munroe, who did not attend Friday’s meeting, had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in the 1970s.

Friday night, Brown argued it would set an “incredibly dangerous precedent” for non-social equity applicants to “try and find loopholes in the state and city rules to qualify them as social equity licensees.” He also claimed the companies failed to apply for the zoning permit as co-applicants.

But Mara Georges, an attorney representing both cannabis companies, vehemently denied Brown’s claims the firms are skirting state law.

“There is nothing illegal here nor is there anything fallacious,” Georges said. “Right on the first page of our special use application, you can see we’re listed as co-applicants: PTS and BioPharm. No, we did not form a separate legal entity – that is not what happened here.”

She also pointed to an Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation advisory notice from earlier this year that allows social equity applicants to enter into a conditional management agreement with a non-social equity applicant.

But Brown continued to claim the application didn’t comply with state law and the Zoning Board had never approved co-applicant proposals for cannabis shops, which Zoning Board acting Chairman Brian Sanchez quickly corrected.

“I do think that you’re referencing state requirements that are applicable to the state, we don’t determine the licenses that are issued by the state. That’s not under our purview, and that’s not what we’re here for,” Sanchez said. “The other thing is you represented to us that we’ve never had co-applicants in cannabis, and that’s simply not true. We have, we’ve seen it.”

Three other nearby residents objected to the proposal largely because there are “too many” dispensaries already open in River North, with some arguing it would reduce property values and increase crime in the affluent neighborhood.

Applicants also laid out plans for the dispensary, which include between $7 million and $10 million in renovations, according to PTS CEO Terry Peterson.

It also intends to employ 55 workers – 36 full-time employees and 19 part-time employees – and four security guards, including a 24-hour guard and a mobile guard to constantly surveil the property.

Read More: Vote for pot company’s plan to set up at old Rainforest Cafe drags out

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