CHICAGO — In an unexpected move, the state awarded licenses for two new dispensaries in River North late last week, despite the shops being located within 1,500 feet of one another.
The state issued licenses for Cresco Labs to open a dispensary 436 N. Clark St. and for MOCA Modern Cannabis to open a dispensary 216 W. Ohio St. in the lucrative retail district. The shops will be the first dispensaries in Chicago selling weed exclusively to recreational customers.
For months, weed companies have been battling to be the first dispensary to receive a coveted license in a small section of River North just outside the Downtown “exclusion zone,” where weed sales are prohibited. The prohibited area includes the Loop and the Magnificent Mile, making River North a coveted location to attract workers and tourists.
New dispensaries are not permitted to be located within 1,500 feet of an existing dispensary, according to state law.
That provision ignited a sense of urgency — and a bit of chaos — as companies raced to secure locations, hold community meetings and clear regulatory hurdles required to receive a state license.
In addition to MOCA and Cresco Labs, PharmaCann and Greenhouse Group had also eyed locations in the area, but withdrew their applications. Jeremy Unruh of PharmaCann told Block Club they “were not confident we could beat out our competitors to the finish line.”
Companies had been told the first shop to receive city approval and then pass necessary state inspections would be granted a license, blocking out any competitor from opening within 1,500 feet.
But on Friday evening, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation doled out licenses to both companies. It’s not immediately clear if the licenses were granted at the exact same time, perhaps side-stepping the requirement that a pot-shop cannot locate within 1,500 feet of an “existing” dispensary.
State officials did not immediately respond to questions.
Jason Erkes, spokesman for Cresco Labs, said the company is “thrilled to be approved” and will open a pop-up shop while they finish constructing the rest of the dispensary.
“Our Sunnyside Dispensary pop-up location will open for online orders soon, and we will be providing staggered pick-up times to avoid crowds, eliminate waits and follow social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Representatives for MOCA could not be immediately reached for comment but the dispensary celebrated the license on Twitter on Friday evening.
The two firms were among the five companies to receive a special use permit at a March 6 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, a necessary hurdle before a state license. The zoning board approved MOCA’s application over the objection of local Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).
Both approvals came with a series of conditions, but one condition placed on MOCA’s permit could delay their opening. They must build a “permanent overflow structure” to prevent lines from forming outside in a parking lot adjacent to their building.
Cresco Labs and PharmaCann were on the agenda for the March meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, but it was postponed in the wake of coronavrius.
Erkes told Block Club the demand for cannabis during the pandemic has remained high, but dispensaries are constrained in how many customers they can serve daily because of social distancing requirements.
Statewide, recreational weed sales totaled $36 million in March, compared to $35 million in February and $39 million in January when sales began, according to figures released by the state last week.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.