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From Top Cop To Pot Shop: Garry McCarthy Now A Security Consultant For Cannabis Company Looking To Open In River North

After losing $200,000 in a burglary the first week weed was legal, MOCA is trying to convince River North neighbors they're serious about security.

Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has a new gig, security consultant to a cannabis company. He attended a meeting on behalf of MOCA Wednesday night.
Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — Former Chicago Police Supt. and mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy has a new gig: Security consultant to a weed company.

MOCA Modern Cannabis, which is in a race with three other companies to open a dispensary in a small area of River North, brought McCarthy on as a security consultant to advise on measures for their planned dispensary at 216 W. Ohio St., located a few blocks from where McCarthy lives.

McCarthy served as Chicago’s top cop from 2011-2015 before being fired by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the release of a video showing Chicago Police officer Jason VanDyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald. McCarthy later ran for mayor in 2019, finishing 10th in a crowd of 14 candidates.

McCarthy was on hand as MOCA pitched their plan to River North Residents at a River North Residents Association Wednesday.

RELATED: 4 Weed Dispensaries Want To Open Within Blocks In River North, But Only 1 Will Be Allowed

McCarthy said he’s become friends with Sam Fakhouri, who owns the building where MOCA wants to open, and it was Fakhouri who approached him about the opportunity. He aims to help MOCA as they work to open the dispensary in River North, working with Michael Chasen, a retired police detective and MOCA’s chief security officer.

McCarthy said it was an easy decision to consult given that he worked to decriminalize cannabis in both Chicago and Newark, where he also served as top cop.

Credit: Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago
MOCA is looking to open a dispensary in River North, and pitched its plan to neighbors Wednesday.

“I said absolutely! I said, when ‘I went to Newark I decriminalized it so that if you’re in possession of marijuana or cannabis, you could get a ticket rather than a mandatory arrest,'” McCarthy said. “I came here and I did the same thing, people don’t remember that.”

News reports from the time paint a murkier picture.

In 2012, Chicago’s City Council passed a measure to allow police the option of issuing a ticket for anyone caught in possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana.

After the ordinance was passed, McCarthy said he noticed black youth on the South and West sides were being “disproportionately arrested” because they didn’t possess the identification needed to get a ticket.

To fix the problem, McCarthy said he made it CPD policy to accept alternative identifications — like calling the person’s parent — in the place of a government-issued ID.

“And guess what? We did that and it went away,” McCarthy said.

But a 2016 investigation by the Sun-Times found that while arrests did go down, the problem of unequal enforcement didn’t go away. Seventeen of the city’s 20 community areas with the highest rates of ticketing were majority African-American, the paper reported at the time. Of the 4,600 people police chose to arrest, rather than ticket, since 2013, 89 percent were black, the paper found.

When asked if it was appropriate to benefit financially from the legal weed trade after his past overseeing a police department with a record of unequal enforcement, McCarthy said he was just enforcing the law.

“I think I’ve pretty much answered that question by telling you that I decriminalized it in the two places that I had control of, and I’m also on record, like I said, talking about the War on Drugs being a wholesale failure,” he said. “Being a police officer is called law enforcement. So if you don’t want the police to enforce the law, I don’t know what to tell you.”

River North resident Loren Johnson said it “boiled” her blood when she learned that McCarthy was a part of the team. She said when she saw him in the room all she could think about was “cover up.”

“[With] all the blame isn’t placed at his feet …it’s interesting to me that is the individual you would choose as your security consultant in such a contentious industry with a community that already has a contentious relationship with this individual,” she said.

Other residents praised McCarthy, however, including a few who knew him as their River North neighbor.

“As far as security is concerned, you have the right person with Garry McCarthy,” one resident said. “If you have him full time as part of your staff I think everyone should breathe very easy. He knows his business.”

MOCA co-owner Danny Marks said McCarthy is a consultant, not a full-time employee, and lives a block away from their desired location. He’s able to provides a “hyperlocal perspective” that will help security, Marks said.

“During the startup period he is just a resource for information [about] this exact location that he passes every single day,” Marks said.

It’s no wonder why MOCA went for a high-profile security expert: A burglar stole about $200,000 from the company’s Logan Square dispenary Jan. 6, five days after recreational weed sales began in the state. 

On Tuesday, Chicago Police spokesman Steve Rusanov said the case is still being investigated and no arrests have been made.

McCarthy said he can help make dispensaries safer. MOCA has an alarm system, but live video monitoring is preferred, he said.

“There’s a number of things that you could do,” McCarthy said. “…There’s nothing like having live video monitoring, because then somebody would have known that the system went down.”

Marks told Block Club the incident was not a run-of-the mill burglary, but rather a sophisticated hacking and there was little they could do to prevent it.

“Our security system was able to be accessed and disabled,” he said. “…It was really a digital hacking attack and Google gets hacked, you know, Apple gets hacked.”

“Employee key cards wouldn’t work at night so whoever accessed the place, did access it with a key card, but it was a key card that was able to be created through accessing our system,” he said.

MOCA is transitioning away from their security contractor and will learn from the incident, he said.

MOCA’s River North plan

It was the second time in as many nights River North residents gathered to listen to the plans of a cannabis dispensary that wants to open in their neighborhood.

MOCA is competing with Cresco Labs, PharmaCann and Greenhouse Group to be the first to receive a state license in a small area of River North. All four sit within 1,500 feet of one another, meaning once one dispensary receives their license, it will prevent others from doing so.

Credit: Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago
A slide presented to neighbors at the MOCA meeting Wednesday.

Marks told neighbors his dispensary is a locally-owned small business competing with larger, multistate operators.

If they were to open at 216 W. Ohio St., the dispensary would replace Municipal Bar.

Christopher Slaby, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, responsible for doling out the licenses and inspecting the properties, said the licenses will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Applications are reviewed in the order that they are received,” he said.

Once the state hands out a license, other dispensaries will be notified and given time to amend their application with a new address, essentially forcing them to restart the zoning approval process after investing in a location they’ll never be able to open in.

That is a costly and risky investment.

Marks said that might be easy for larger companies, but MOCA still has enough access to capital to compete for their prized location.

“I’ve heard that other people are locking in multiple properties, we’re not. We’re not doing that, we don’t have multiple security deposits and first month’s rent checks to write,” he said. “…I think on this location, I think we’re well set up to run a good race and if we win, we win. And if we don’t then we’ll take it from there.”

Wednesday’s meeting came on the heels of a Tuesday meeting where Cresco Labs pitched neighbors on their desired dispensary location at 436 N. Clark St. Cresco employees monitored Wednesday’s meeting from the back of the room just as Doug Marks had the night before.

Two meetings are also scheduled for next week.

After their meetings, the companies may head to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special use permit. The zoning board will likely hold a special, cannabis-only meeting on March 6. If approved, the companies will continue their race to build out their facilities and be the first to win a state license.

The next meetings on River North dispensaries will take place:

  • PharmaCann: 6 p.m., Feb. 6 at Maggianos, 516 N. Clark St. for their proposed dispensary at 444 N. LaSalle St
  • Greenhouse Group: 6 p.m., Feb. 7 at 350 N. Orleans St. for their proposed dispensary at 612 N. Wells St.

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