WEST LOOP — Two weed shops that battled to be the only shop on a hot West Loop block just west of Randolph’s famed restaurant row will now have to compete for customers.
For months, the two rivals, Dispensary 33 and NuEra, tried to block the other from opening a dispensary in the 1400 block of Randolph Street in the West Loop, including filing unsuccessful objections to the other’s bid for a special city zoning permit. Each believed if they scored a license first, a state law preventing dispensaries from opening within 1,500 feet of an existing pot shop would block their competition.
But for the second time this year, state regulators awarded a license to both companies on the same day, effectively sidestepping the state cannabis law by ruling there was no existing dispensary in place to block the other out.
“There were no such dispensaries within 1,500 feet of either applicant on the business day when each met the final requirements to qualify for a secondary site license,” said Christopher Slaby, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the agency charged with regulating the cannabis industry.
Each license was approved on Nov. 6, Slaby said.
The ruling echoes a similar battle in River North, where as many as five weed companies raced to open in the lucrative neighborhood, only to have the agency award licenses to both MOCA Modern Cannabis and Cresco Labs on the same day in the spring.
But the River North pot shops are blocks from one another. NuEra, at 1141 W. Randolph St., and Dispensary 33, 1152 W. Randolph St., are set to open dispensaries directly across the street from each other.
NuEra and Dispensary 33 will be the second and third to open in the West Loop, following Nature’s Care Company at 810 W. Randolph St..
And while MOCA and Cresco Labs representatives turned up at River North meetings where the companies shared their plans with the community, the battle in the West Loop was much more heated.
In September, Dispensary 33 objected to NuEra’s bid for a special-use permit at the Zoning Board of Appeals, arguing their competitors proposed pot shop was too small to handle expected demand for weed in the neighborhood.
The company even hired attorney Eugene Murphy, who helped kill a proposed dispensary in the Gold Coast during a marathon Zoning Board of appeals meeting. But Dispensary 33 was unsuccessful, and the zoning board unanimously approved NuEra’s permit.
The board approved Dispensary 33’s permit a month later, despite an objection from NuEra’s landlord that Dispensary 33’s larger pot shop would create a traffic nightmare on the street.
In October, Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, who supported Dispensary 33’s bid, alerted the city Buildings Department that NuEra’s construction team may have been going beyond the scope of their building permit. The department agreed, and slapped NuEra with the stop-work order.
The company eventually received the necessary permits for their build out and resumed work. A representative for NuEra did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abigail Watkins, a spokeswoman for Dispensary 33, said the company was “excited” to open its second dispensary. The company’s first location is Andersonville.
Prioritizing residents of the West Side, the company will start hiring for the West Loop location next week and could open early next year, she said.
While the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is continuing to issue licenses for secondary locations to the state’s existing medical dispensaries, a new batch of 75 licenses aimed at boosting minority ownership in the industry has been mired in a court battle.
On Sept. 3, after months of delays, the state announced only 21 groups had reached a tie-breaker stage to split the 75 licenses. But after the announcement drew immediate criticism from the losing applicants alleging their applications were inaccurately scored, multiple lawsuits were filed.
Gov. JB Pritzker eventually announced the state would provide an opportunity for those who didn’t receive a perfect score to have their applications rescored or provide additional documentation for a new evaluation.
That prompted a counter lawsuit from three of the original finalists attempting to block the state’s process to rescore the losing applications. But the Sun-Times reported Thursday the lawsuit was rejected by a Sangamon County judge.
The state will begin the process to rescore losing applications in the “coming weeks,” the paper reported.
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