Zoning Board Signs Off On Marijuana Farm, 6 Dispensaries In City

(STMW) — A strip club owner seeking to own Chicago’s first legal marijuana farm made sure the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals got a lesson in the pot business Friday.

It was the first time the zoning board, which must issue special use permits for the new crop of businesses, considered allowing a marijuana cultivation center to operate within the city of Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

But the board apparently wasn’t interested in the actual growing of the cannabis plant.

Instead they grilled Perry Mandera and his team on their plan to keep the cash crop safe.

Despite the grilling, the zoning board approved Mandera’s farm and dispensary. The board also approved the permits for five other dispensaries and denied one in Wicker Park.

But Mandera, was asked: “If I had sticky fingers and I wanted to get you, how does the system catch” that? chairman Jonathan Swain asked.

Part of the answer: sophisticated software, one of Mandera’s consultant’s said.

Mandera, the owner of a trucking firm and VIP’s A Gentleman’s Club, has applied to the state for a license to grow marijuana at 12233 South Avenue O and to sell the medical product in a West Loop dispensary. He’s invested $10 million into the cultivation alone, he said.

Mandera and his team of lawyers, security experts and marijuana consultants were peppered with questions about both potential enterprises, both called Custom Strains.

No one spoke up against the farm, which would be housed in a new 32,000 square-foot building on the Southeast Side. But three members of the West Loop community spoke up against the proposed medical marijuana dispensary on Fulton Street.

Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph-Fulton Market Association, told the board the community group opposes Mandera’s dispensary plans in the West Loop.

“There is substantial community opposition,” Romanelli said. “They don’t feel this is the appropriate location for this groundbreaking” venture.

Mandera’s attorney denied those claims and said they have gathered signatures from supportive community members.

For his part, Mandera, a former Marine, told the zoning board he hopes to cater to disabled veterans and will offer them 10 percent off their medical marijuana purchases.

In the end, the state has the final word and will grant only 13 dispensary licenses in the city of Chicago, but the zoning board’s approval is key in the process.

The state will allow one growing operation in each State Police district. District Chicago, which includes all of Cook County, is actually made up of two districts, so it will have two cultivation centers, according to state documents.

So far just one businessman, Mandera, has asked the zoning board to allow the farming of legal marijuana in Chicago.

During the marathon meeting Friday, those hoping to open legal marijuana businesses touted high-tech security systems that include motion detectors, panic alarms, holdup arms, biometric locks and “mantraps.”

Also among those approved Friday are two former Goldman Sachs executives who have opened dispensaries in other states and have faced lawsuits and a lawyer seeking to open a dispensary in Brighton Park.

Two of the groups approved — including the Brighton Park dispensary, Maribis of Chicago — are seeking to open on the Southwest Side in Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th ward. He said he had no objections, though neighbors of the Maribis dispensary said they’re opposed.

The powerful alderman, who was the only elected official to speak before the board, said the two firms vying for the state medical marijuana license in his ward have agreed to have 24/7 security if they are able to open the dispensaries.

Burke is one of the aldermen who is seeking stringent requirements that all dispensaries have round-the-clock security.

But mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti (2nd) and his Progressive Caucus colleague Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) used a parliamentary maneuver at Wednesday’s council meeting to put off consideration for the security ordinance until the next Council meeting.

“It’s my feeling the Chicago police have enough to do right now without being saddled again with additional responsibilities,” Burke said.

Burke also was instrumental in creating the requirement that marijuana businesses go through the special use permit process with the zoning board.

Burke jokingly told the board members, “I should apologize for putting you through all these hours of testimony.”

Board members also heard from Nicholas Vita and Michael Abbott, two former Goldman Sachs executives hoping to be able to open a dispensary on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The pair’s companies have won licenses to run dispensaries in Arizona, Massachusetts, Nevada and Washington D.C.

But they have faced lawsuits in some of those states, according to records.

Vita on Friday told the zoning board his experience with marijuana businesses in other states means he and his team know what they’re doing.

State officials have said they will award medical marijuana business licenses before the end of the year.

The ZBA last month granted special use permits to three potential medical marijuana dispensaries.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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