Two New Dispensaries Set to Open in Rogers Park in the Coming Months

Perception Cannabis and OKAY Cannabis set to open up within a half mile of each other.

Two new dispensaries will be opening up early 2024 in the Rogers Park and Evanston areas, while a third is looking to relocate to a new location. 

OKAY Cannabis has started construction at 100 Chicago Ave. in Evanston and Perception Cannabis is awaiting approval from the city to begin the construction process on 7000 N. Clark St. in Chicago, according to board members of each company. 

A third dispensary, Zen Leaf, has been in operation at 7305 N. Rogers Ave. in Rogers Park for two years, making all three dispensaries fall within a one mile radius of one another and approximately two miles from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. 

Perception Cannabis started their proposal process in March, which included gaining support from the community, according to board director Charles Cherqui.

Cherqui said he had to give a presentation in March to Rogers Park residents at Alderwoman of the 49th Ward Maria Hadden’s office to convince them Perception Cannabis should have a location in their neighborhood. 

After the presentation, residents were given a survey to vote on potential concerns they had with inputting this business, including increased crime rates, proximity to nearby daycares and more oncoming traffic, according to Cherqui. 

Residents of the 49th Ward said they saw little issue with the opening of Perception Cannabis, according to the 49th Ward’s website

Dispensaries with social equity licenses, which Perception Cannabis and OKAY Cannabis both hold, are important to 59.2% of Rogers Park residents, according to the survey on the website. Most residents also voted in the survey they weren’t concerned about any public safety issues arising from the dispensary pertaining to increased crime rates. The results of this survey ruled in favor of the proposed location of Perception Cannabis, according to the 49th Ward website

The next steps for the company include obtaining a special use permit at their final meeting with the Zoning Board of Appeals Dec. 15 which would allow them to begin construction, according to Cherqui. 

Kyle Ryan, manager of economic development at the 49th Ward, said the community’s support plays a large role in obtaining special use permits. 

“The Zoning Board of Appeals usually kind of listens to what the community and alderwoman wants, and we’ve given them a letter of support,” Ryan said. “So we’re looking forward to them getting approval at the [Zoning Board of Appeals] in a couple weeks.”  

Cherqui said they hope for Perception’s opening day sometime in late January and will be selling cannabis in the form of flower, edibles and vaporizer products. 

OKAY Cannabis, a social equity dispensary chain, purchased property in Evanston this July, according to Ameya Pawar, co-founder and managing partner of OKAY Cannabis who works to oversee and stabilize their stores over time.  

Pawar said this dispensary differs from others due to its commitment to go beyond just retail and instead create a community space focused on hospitality. 

“We believe that a lot of dispensaries focus on the transactional element where they’re trying to get customers in and out, and we think of the people who enter our stores as guests,” Pawar said. “We pride ourselves on participating in the community.”

Pawar said OKAY Cannabis has been opening locations across Illinois throughout the year. Their first location in Wheeling opened in February with the second location in West Town in May. Their third location in Evanston is scheduled to open in January, according to Pawar. 

Pawar credits the swift storefront openings to an effective team, smooth government processes and calculated location decisions.

“We’ve been intentional about where we want to open,” Pawar said. “We want to open in places where the community actually wants —  not swimming upstream.” 

As the opening looms closer, Pawar said the OKAY Cannabis team is excited to be introducing a store on Howard and become a part of the community.

Zen Leaf, a multi-state dispensary chain with a store currently located in Rogers Park, has been attempting to move into a new space within the area. Despite Zen Leaf’s persistence to find a new location, their two previous attempts have been unsuccessful, The Phoenix previously reported

Verano, Zen Leaf’s parent company, previously sought out a location in the Gateway Center — the shopping mall by the Howard Red Line stop, according to Ryan, who said their move was stopped due to the approval of OKAY Cannabis’ Evanston location.

Dispensaries are prohibited from opening within 1,500 feet of one, another according to Illinois state law. This halted Zen Leaf’s efforts to move into the Gateway Center.  

Verano didn’t respond to a request for comment on their relocation in Rogers Park.

Zen Leaf is continuing their efforts to move locations in Rogers Park specifically to a building with ample parking space, but no further proposal has been brought up, according to Ryan.

The 49th Ward has been diligent about receiving the community’s input on the introduction of new dispensaries in Rogers Park, according to Ryan. 

“It’s good to hear directly from our neighbors,” Ryan said. “The neighbors who are very concerned about it are gonna be the ones who answer the survey, they’re gonna be the ones who respond and they’re gonna be the ones who care.”

Haley Dozier, a second year anthropology and global studies major said she knows many people who smoke cannabis and having dispensaries nearby can promote safety amongst students. 

“I feel like it’s better to get marijuana in safe and responsible ways,” Dozier said. “If you get it from people you don’t know very well, you don’t know what might be in it, how safe it is or where it came from.” 

Besa Ferataj, a fourth year biochemistry major said she thinks having dispensaries within close proximity of campus shouldn’t be viewed negatively.

“If you’re going for medical-use or stress relief, especially being in a college campus full of stress, if that helps people and it being in a closer proximity helps them get that and relief, I don’t have too much of an issue,” Ferataj said.

This article was written by Laila Ali and Taylor Zielenbach

Featured image by Eliza Thomas / The Phoenix

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff