A recreational cannabis dispensary long planned for 1914 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town could open in early 2023. Credit: JP Calubaquib / Provided

WEST TOWN — A former Chicago alderman and the owner of a popular restaurant group are pushing forward with plans to open a cannabis dispensary in West Town.

Former 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar hopes to open the dispensary with Scott Weiner, co-owner of the Fifty/50 group which runs Roots Pizza, West Town Bakery and other local restaurants. Pawar served two terms in City Council from 2011-2019, and unsuccessfully ran for city treasurer in 2019.

Dr. George Chiampas, medical director for the Chicago Marathon, and Nikki Hayes, president of the Laborers International Union of North America, Local 1001, are also involved in the project, Pawar confirmed Monday.

Operating under the name Canna Ventures LLC, the partners applied last week for a special use permit to operate the dispensary at 1914 W. Chicago Ave., next door to West Town Bakery. Zoning Board of Appeals manager Victor Resa confirmed the application had been filed.

The group presented plans for the project to neighbors in 2019. The original concept included not only a dispensary, but also a cannabis restaurant, wellness spa and medical clinic.

But Pawar said Monday they’re now focused on just getting the dispensary off the ground, with the spa portion of the concept depending on the future of the pandemic.

“Obviously, a spa requires people to be in close contact with others, and there’s a whole different level of personalized interaction that’s involved there and we don’t know what’s going to happen. Is there going to be another surge? We obviously don’t want to be in a position where the concept we have can’t be successful because of public health issues,” Pawar said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) at the State of Lincoln Square on Oct. 18. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/ Block Club Chicago

Pawar said the dispensary’s ownership is “almost 70 percent Black- [and] Brown-owned,” and will prioritize hiring employees from marginalized communities.

“Our focus has always been to open up a dispensary that is social equity in ownership, social equity in employment, is inclusive by design, but also creates real pathways to wealth,” Pawar said.

The timeline of the dispensary’s opening will depend on the status of a series of lawsuits that have delayed the state from officially granting almost 200 cannabis licenses.

Pawar said he’s part of two teams that have been awarded three of those licenses, one for the Chicago Avenue location and two for dispensaries in the suburbs.

“We’re excited to get going once these licenses have been released,” he said. “Our hope would be is that if these lawsuits get settled in the next 90 days that we will be off to the races and starting construction the second we get some indication on what the lawsuits are going to be.”

Pawar expects the group will hold a community meeting on the dispensary later this spring, as required by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The dispensary has decided on a name and branding, Pawar said, but isn’t ready to disclose additional details.

“If there was a wellness concept involved, you can see the fact that it is experiential by nature, by design. I think a lot of it really just depends on timing of the lawsuits and COVID as we start making some of these strategic decisions,” he said.

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