Three New Dispensaries Planning to Open Near Each Other in Rogers Park

Three new dispensaries, including one with a bakery, intend to open within a six-block stretch of North Clark Street this year.

Three different dispensaries are planning to open up within a six block radius on North Clark Street in Rogers Park and Evanston this year.

The proposed locations are about a mile northwest of Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, pending the results of two community surveys in Rogers Park ending April 2 and a community meeting in Evanston March 28.

Perception Cannabis, a dispensary being launched by start-up company Perception Farms, is attempting to open at 7000 N. Clark St. A start-up hybrid between a dispensary and bakery, OKAY Cannabis is looking to open at 100 Chicago Ave. in Evanston. Zen Leaf, a large dispensary chain, is aiming to relocate to 7541 N. Clark St. in Gateway Center Plaza. 

Leslie Perkins, chief of staff to 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden, wrote in an email to The Phoenix that North Clark Street is a critical commercial corridor, so the dispensaries saw opportunity in establishing their businesses there.

Zen Leaf’s parent company, Verano, sought out the Gateway Center location after its efforts to move a store at 7305 N. Rogers Ave. into the building formerly housing Leona’s restaurant on North Sheridan Road faced community opposition, The Phoenix previously reported.

Perkins said the community expressed concerns in a meeting held and a survey circulated last year regarding Verano’s original proposal, including its close proximity to the lakefront and Loyola’s campus, as well as a surge in traffic the dispensary could bring to the more residential section of the road’s commercial corridor.

Verano withdrew its proposal for the Leona’s location at the suggestion of Hadden’s office, based on input from community members in the meeting last year. The company then presented the Gateway Center proposal, which the office held another community meeting for March 8.

Verano didn’t respond to a request for comment on its relocation efforts.

A survey open until April 2 is being circulated to determine next steps, according to Perkins. The survey asks respondents to rate their level of concern on issues of traffic, safety and economic development in relation to the dispensary, as well as its proximity to transit options, a planned homeless shelter, and other dispensaries.

This month’s community meeting consisted of a presentation by Verano covering the proposed location and addressing possible security concerns, according to a recording of the meeting on Hadden’s Facebook page. Residents then asked questions about the proposal in a question and answer session.

Perception Cannabis is partly owned by Perception Farms, but it’s a majority Black-owned business, according to Charles Cherqui, the company’s CEO.

Illinois’ adult-use cannabis social equity program makes dispensaries eligible for financial and technical assistance if they meet criteria pertaining to the historical criminalization of cannabis, according to the state’s website. These criteria include majority ownership by people from communities disproportionately targeted for cannabis offenses.

Cherqui said he aims to have the store open as soon as possible, but the company will base its final decision to open at its intended location on feedback it receives in the community survey. Hadden’s office hosted a community meeting for Perception Farms’ proposal March 14. The survey, also open until April 2, is being circulated for residents to answer questions similar to those in the Zen Leaf survey.

In response to potential hesitance from the community on having new dispensaries open, Cherqui pointed to data showing the positive impacts of legal cannabis accessibility.

“There’s no evidence, in fact there’s evidence to the opposite, that having a highly regulated and compliant dispensary harms the community in any way,” Cherqui said. “In fact, it seems to lower the rate of opiate abuse. It seems to actually lower the rate of teenager use of cannabis.”

Increased dispensary presence is associated with a reduction in opiate-related deaths, according to a 2021 study from The British Medical Journal.

Licensed dispensaries that require proof of age are associated with a decrease in teenage cannabis consumption, according to a 2019 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

Cherqui also highlighted that Perception Cannabis is a locally-owned business with direct interest in its impact on the community.

“We’re not a multi-state conglomerate with billions of dollars at their disposal,” Cherqui said. 

OKAY Cannabis is a new chain being launched in collaboration with The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, which owns West Town Bakery, a local bakery chain. It sells both dispensary and bakery products.

Scott Weiner, co-owner of OKAY Cannabis and co-founder and president of The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, said he wanted to create a more hospitable environment for dispensary customers.

“I recognized that there was a very strong, retail-focused aspect of cannabis dispensaries, but some of them were not as hospitality-focused,” Weiner said. “I always wondered why there was a waiting room where you couldn’t get a cup of coffee or a donut while you waited.”

OKAY Cannabis opened its first store in Wheeling, Illinois earlier this year, and the Evanston Gateway complex where the second store will be located is scheduled to begin construction in the first week of May if all goes well with the community feedback and application process, according to Weiner.

Maura McCabe, general manager of the Wheeling store, said the bakery section of OKAY Cannabis offers treats such as pastries, breakfast sandwiches, cake balls and coffee. Customers can place an order in one section and then head to the other while they wait or order from just one section.

The dispensary and bakery items are packaged separately and edibles won’t be sold, according to Weiner.

Weiner said OKAY Cannabis is part of the state’s social equity program, with 93% of the license ownership for the Evanston location belonging to people of color. 

Weiner said he and his business partners will attend a community consultation meeting held by the city’s government March 28 to address any concerns about the dispensary held by residents. He said feedback so far has been positive and OKAY Cannabis isn’t facing opposition from the Evanston community at this time. 

Weiner said ideally the store will open late July, but he’s expecting a late August opening.

Regarding the proximity of the other dispensaries opening up this year, McCabe said she looks forward to the healthy competition it will bring. 

“A lot of times out of competition new ideas come out, so I believe with that healthy competition that we’ll be seeing some very unique and exciting things coming not only from that area, but just in cannabis in general,” McCabe said.

Sophomore Joao Vitor Moraes Barreto said he opposes the opening of new dispensaries near campus. He compared cannabis consumption among college students to drinking culture, which he said is excessive and can negatively impact health and academics. 

“I generally oppose it, similar to liquor stores opening up in the area,” Barreto said. “I just generally don’t think it’s good for students to get involved with that kind of stuff, but it is everyone’s individual choice.”

Marijuana use among college students adversely impacts academic outcomes, according to a 2015 study from the National Library of Medicine.

Ruby Olmos, an international business major, said she supports the opening of new dispensaries because she opposes the criminalization of cannabis.

“There’s a lot of benefits to it, especially for older people,” Olmos said. “And I think it’s better for people, especially in Chicago, to be buying it from stores like that, rather than off the street or something. So I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix

Colin Hart

Colin Hart