Here we go again.
A medical marijuana dispensary, one of only 13 in the entire city, has been proposed for 6501 North Western Avenue, next door to Warren Park. The owner says he plans to hire workers from the 50th Ward, particularly veterans and the disabled. Most residents are happy to see a viable business that would employ neighborhood residents and relieve human suffering choose West Ridge as its location.
The only resident whose vote determines whether or not that business opens doesn’t agree. On Friday Alderman Silverstein announced that she is “unequivocally” opposed to any medical marijuana clinic in the 50th Ward. Just flatly refused to consider it. In true Silverstein style, she offered no reasons, no explanation of the thinking behind her opposition.
On Sunday, the alderman claimed her opposition is based on the “hundreds of children” from 2 to 17 engaged in the park’s sports activities, day camp, and other year-round programs. As further justification, she bizarrely noted that “In addition, Warren Park is home to three playgrounds, tennis courts, batting cages and an ice skating rink,” all apparently in danger from seriously ill people filling valid prescriptions at a legal business tightly regulated by federal, state, and local authorities.
She supports the idea of medical marijuana, she says, but many residents have told her that they object to the facility, and now “…it has become my feeling that this is not the proper location….” The clincher comes when she announces that she “strongly believe(s) in community involvement…” and wants to hear from everyone in the neighborhood.
The similarities between this proposed business and the recently-approved storage facility are too obvious to overlook.
Both campaigns began with fear-mongering. Then it was the alleged crisis of “almost daily” crime at the old theater, now it’s the danger to 2-year-olds from patients seeking to relieve their suffering. Just like a storage facility is the only business that could open on the theater site, a medical marijuana dispensary is the only business that can’t open across from the park. The community is invited to have a role in the process, and then it turns out that the “majority” doesn’t represent the entire community.
I have heard only one person speak against the proposed business, and that’s Debra Silverstein.
Let’s look at the other businesses currently across from the park.
Is the alderman worried about McDonald’s? Should kids be exposed to all that fat and salt, all those empty calories? I’ve yet to meet a kid who goes to McDonald’s for the salad. Using the alderman’s logic, we should ban fast food operators from locating across from parks lest they turn our kids away from healthy outdoor activities and get them hooked on unhealthy foods.
What about the car showrooms? Cars are dangerous, too. Speed. Sex. Independence. Should we encourage kids to dream of the day when they can zoom away in their very own speedster to indulge in who-knows-what illicit pleasures? We’ll need to ban car sales on Western to protect the kids.
How about those vacant stores and lots? Exposing kids to business failure, encouraging graffiti, suggesting political indifference. Should we attract some business that might bring employment and payroll taxes and benefit some members of the community as well? Not if it’s a medical marijuana dispensary. Better to let some alderman with less moral indignation and more common sense snap it up to benefit another ward.
The alderman’s protests ring hollow. The change between Friday’s absolute refusal to allow the dispensary to set up shop anywhere in the ward and Sunday’s I-just-want-to-protect-the-kids backtracking suggests that the messages she’s heard are in support of the proposed business, not against it. She might be open to locating it elsewhere. Meanwhile, she invites residents to attend the public meeting on May 28 at the Zoning Board of Appeals. This could be another formality, another event staged to look like democracy in action.
Is another done deal in the works? Is there another packed meeting in our future? Are we in for another display of moral hypocrisy?
We’ll need to protect the kids from that, too.