The front of the The Westside Justice Center in Garfield Park, where a dispensary could possibly open inside. Credit: Trey Arline/ Block Club Chicago

GARFIELD PARK — The granddaughter of a former Chicago alderwoman is pushing to open a cannabis dispensary in East Garfield Park.

Britteney Kapri wants to convert 7,000 square feet of an unused restaurant in the Westside Justice Center building at 601-611 S. California Ave. into Baked dispensary, city filings show.

A poet and playwright, Kapri said she and her team were one of the original social equity cannabis license applicants in 2020, a program meant to boost minority participation in the legal pot industry.

Once they obtained a license, Kapri chose to open in the Westside Justice Center building that was founded in part by her father Brendan Shiller, a lawyer who helped establish a pro-bono legal office in the building.

Opening in the building will help Kapri achieve her goal of bringing a dispensary to a predominantly Black neighborhood. The family owns the building, Kapri said.

“The justice center isn’t ideal for us due to its [small] size, but what is most important is that we get it open,” she said. “We needed a location that is convenient for the community and one that becomes a space for people of marginalized communities to be accepted.”

Kapri’s grandmother is former 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller, who represented Uptown in City Council from 1987 to 2011.

The dispensary proposal requires a zoning change for the California Avenue building. A measure to change the zoning was deferred at the most recent City Council zoning committee meeting.

Kapri said her team plans to hold another community meeting before the project goes in front of the zoning committee.

Kapri previously said her team will include a dispensary worker, a cannabis educator, a health and wellness expert and an employee of the human rights organization Heartland Alliance. Up to 20 people would be hired, according to Kapri, and there would be higher hiring priority for Garfield Park residents.

Roughly four years after acquiring her license, Kapri said obtaining a license and actually establishing a dispensary is more difficult for those who lack financial resources to operate. Despite efforts to diversify Illinois’ legal weed industry, the market is still dominated by large firms, reports show.

Equity is badly needed in the cannabis industry, the licensing process and for the image of legal pot as a whole, Kapri said. She said she turned down as much as $8 million to sell her dispensary license, opting to keep it and help bring new voices into the industry.

“You see white millennials on TV smoking a joint and having fun, and there are still thousands of black people serving long sentences for using cannabis,” she said. “Cannabis culture is Black and Brown culture, it’s about sharing and community. I wanted to be in a space where I can share with people who look like me.”

Kapri’s Baked dispensary proposal comes on the heels of an earlier dispensary pitch in the area.

Attorney Robert Walker sought to establish a dispensary at the old Catfish Corner site in Garfield Park. Walker said launching the business in his neighborhood could generate wealth and right the wrongs of the War on Drugs’ disproportionate effect on the community and other Black neighborhoods.

The project drew widespread criticism from neighbors earlier this year. Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said last month he will not support the proposal amid backlash from neighbors.

Kapri believes her proposal will work since they are not near a school or a residential area of the neighborhood.

“I completely understand their hesitation. It is a desert of many other resources, I’m not looking to promise to fix the West Side alone,” she said. “Even opening a business as lucrative as a dispensary cannot fix the harm done to this area.”

Baked dispensary would be in Ald. Jason Ervin’s 28th Ward. Ervin did not respond to requests for comment, although Kapri told the Sun-Times the alderman is in support of the measure.

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