ROGERS PARK — Zen Leaf is again back to the drawing board in its attempt to relocate in Rogers Park after a rival dispensary beat it to the punch.
The cannabis dispensary chain sought the city’s permission to open near the corner of Clark and Howard streets in Rogers Park, the second proposed relocation for its existing shop at 7305 N. Rogers Ave.
But social-equity firm Okay Cannabis also proposed opening at the northwest corner of Clark and Howard streets in a development on the Evanston side of the border. Okay Cannabis’ hybrid dispensary-bakery-cafe business got a special-use permit from Evanston on May 8, city records show.
Zen Leaf’s proposed new location at 7541 N. Clark St. falls within 1,500 feet of Okay Cannabis’ location, too close for most competing dispensaries, under state law.
There is a carve-out exception to that rule for social-equity dispensaries, which are allowed to open near established pot shops. But Zen Leaf, as a multistate cannabis firm, does not qualify and cannot open that close to another dispensary, per state law.
Okay Cannabis’ approval precludes Zen Leaf from opening the Clark Street location, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) confirmed. Hadden said her office is working with Zen Leaf to find what would be its third proposed new location in Rogers Park. An earlier attempt to move into the closed Leona’s restaurant fell through last year.
“This is to try and support our smaller social-equity dispensaries as opposed to the larger shops,” Hadden said at a recent town hall about the state law. “We are in talks with Zen Leaf still, have identified maybe a couple of other locations. Stay tuned.”
A spokesperson for Zen Leaf did not respond to a request for comment.
This is the second time Zen Leaf’s relocation efforts in Rogers Park have stalled.
Zen Leaf’s parent company, Verano, bought what was then known as Green Gate Dispensary in 2021. Green Gate opened as a medical-only dispensary on Rogers Avenue before recreational pot was legalized.
After buying the pot shop, Verano sought a more prominent flagship location for the dispensary, officials said at a community meeting. The company proposed moving into the former Leona’s restaurant at 6935 N. Sheridan Road. But Hadden, after hearing from neighbors, asked Verano to consider other locations where its presence could benefit nearby small businesses.
That led Zen Leaf to Clark Street just south of Howard Street in the Gateway Center Plaza next to the Howard Street Red Line station.
The move would have brought Zen Leaf out of a more residential setting on Rogers Avenue and into a major commercial district with ample parking and accessible via public transit, company officials previously said. Officials at the meeting also said they had no qualms about being near Okay Cannabis and another dispensary proposal in Rogers Park.
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Zen Leaf’s proposal needed an amendment to the planned development governing the Gateway Center Plaza, which requires City Council approval. It also needed a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, both of which officials discussed at a March 8 community meeting.
After the meeting, Hadden said her office learned Okay Cannabis’ Evanston plans were “further along in the approval process” than Zen Leaf’s, the alderwoman said in her newsletter.
Okay Cannabis got initial approval from an Evanston committee in April before receiving final approval last week. The Evanston City Council suspended council rules on introduction and approval to “assist [Okay Cannabis’] timing for securing a finalized state cannabis dispensary license for the site,” city records show.
Okay Cannabis, which has locations in suburban Wheeling and one coming to West Town, faces a July 22 deadline to show progress on the Evanston location to hold onto its state license, according to the Daily Northwestern.
Another social-equity dispensary, Perception Cannabis, is planning to open at 7000 N. Clark St. after recently securing Hadden’s support for the plan.
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