Dispensary Looks to Relocate Six Blocks from Lake Shore Campus

Aidan Cahill | The PhoenixLoyola students and Rogers Park residents react to a new dispensary opening in the neighborhood, roughly six blocks from campus.

Green Gate, a recreational and medical dispensary operated by Verano, is looking to move from North Rogers Avenue to 6935 N. Sheridan Road — roughly six blocks from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. While some students and residents are supportive, others raised concerns about the dispensary’s corporation ownership and resources it would give to Rogers Park.

Verano announced the desire to move so that the dispensary would be located in a commercial space instead of residential, as well as have more parking and space to expand.

The dispensary would move into the building that formerly housed Leona’s, an Italian restaurant that suddenly closed in 2019. The location is right off the Morse Red Line stop, about a 10 to fifteen minute walk from campus. 

Joan Holden, director of Loyola’s Wellness Center, said that students’ marijuana use is always possible but emphasized that Loyola is a non-smoking campus in the interest of student wellness. 

Loyola’s smoke-free campus includes marijuana, tobacco and vapes. 

“We’re seeing dispensaries pop up all over the place, the fact that we’ll have one close to campus, we can’t control that,” Holden said. “But we are a smoke-free campus and we have to remember that.” 

Holden said that prospective students and their parents should “do their due diligence” when considering how having a dispensary close to campus might affect their college decision. 

“The fact that we are a smoke-free campus is a very positive thing for families to consider when bringing their children to campus,” Holden said. 

In order to relocate, Verano would need to secure a zoning change, approval through the Lakefront Protection process and a new permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Verano is a prominent marijuana chain, with dispensaries in twelve states and ten locations in Illinois. 

49th Ward Alderperson Maria Hadden hosted a community meeting March 28 which brought in 82 community members to discuss Rogers Park residents’ views on the potential relocation. Verano’s Executive President Anthony Marsico presented Verano’s plans for the space, which included a million dollar rebuild. 

While presenting, the Zoom chat function flooded with members’ opinions and questions which ranged from support and anger. Hadden interrupted at one point to condemn the talk in the chat and said she would eject people if disrespectful discussion continued. 

Greg Sherman, who is part of the organization Ex Cons for Community Change (ECCSC), later brought up concerns during the Q&A portion to Marsico that the dispensary industry isn’t doing enough to support people convicted of marijuana charges, and thinks this is necessary if Verano expands in Rogers Park.

“THEY HAVE ZERO COMMUNITY BENEFIT AGREEMENTS!” Sherman wrote in the chat. “Verano needs to be held accountable for true social equity in the cannabis industry. Say NO!! Our Alderwoman has to do a better job protecting the residents of Rogers Park!”

Tyrone Muhammad, founder of ECCSC, echoed Sherman’s concerns, and said during the Q&A part of the meeting that he doesn’t believe the business will provide enough opportunities and resources for people affected by drug convictions.

“We as an organization, we are not standing for it,” Muhammad said during the community meeting. “We will be out there all day and night to make sure that place is not going in.”

In response, Marsico said Verano partners with the community and for criminal reform, focusing on dispensary training, job placement services and resume reviews. 

“We partner with MFS (Metropolitan Family Services) and LAS (Legal Aid Society) and we’re working closely to sponsor expunged criminals through the city to erase their records,” Marsico said.   

Verano’s spokesperson Steve Mazeika said in an email to the Phoenix that Verano partners with many organizations to offer “a variety of philanthropic and supportive services.” 

Mazeika cited their participation in a clinic with Legal Aid Chicago to advise people with cannabis offenses and the expungement process, as well as a $50,000 donation to Mission Green, which they plan to “further engage” with this year. 

Mazeika also stated Verano donated to other Chicago based organizations, such as Howard Brown Health and Keshet, a non-profit that holds programs for people with disabilities. 

Muhammad expressed dissatifisfaction with the company’s efforts and said Verano should be doing more. 

Other residents expressed excitement about a dispensary being close, but were disappointed it isn’t locally or minority owned. 

Some community members brought up concerns about traffic jams, increased marijuana usage at Loyola Park and how this will affect Loyola students. 

Marsico emphasized Verano’s desire to work with the Rogers Park community, and said they are willing to make “reasonable” changes and partner with them on certain initiatives. 

The meeting went over the allotted time by more than thirty minutes. Both Hadden and Marisco said Rogers Park residents can be assured this was only the first of many meetings. Hadden also assured residents all of their questions will be addressed and wanted to clarify that she hasn’t made any decision on allowing the dispensary to open. 

Oliver Ainsworth, a first-year studying criminal justice, said he doesn’t have any concerns about a dispensary being close to campus.

“I do believe if you make something legal and make it easier to get to, it makes using it much safer,” Ainsworth, 19, said. 

Dima Hassan, a senior studying psychology on the pre-med track said she doesn’t view marijuana negatively.

“Let’s be honest, most of the students on campus already smoke weed anyways, so I don’t think it [student marijuana usage] would increase, I think it would make it more accessible so it might be a safer option,” Hassan, 22, said. 

While Nayeli Vargas, a sophomore studying forensic science, in general thinks the dispensary opening could be a good thing, particularly for people who need medical marijuana to medicate, though she thinks it might increase drug use on campus. 

“Since we’re in college, we have some sort of maturity level towards it and if it’s recreational, I hope students are smart about it,” Vargas, 19, said.

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