Silverstein’s Blunder to Benefit Rogers Park

It appears that another ward will profit from the alderman’s wrongheaded refusal to permit a medical marijuana dispensary (MMD) to open in West Ridge, thus depriving the 50th ward of much-needed jobs and sales tax revenues, not to mention a lovely landscaped business gracing Western Avenue.

Remember the Greengate Compassion Center? The MMD had applied last year to build its facility at 6501 North Western Avenue in West Ridge. The alderman immediately announced her opposition, then clarified it twice before finally blocking it in the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). In fact, so sure was she that the MMD would not be approved that she proposed a zoning change ordinance for the site two months before the ZBA’s final decision was announced.

To preserve the illusion of a disinterested ZBA making an independent decision, that ordinance was tabled for a couple of months before the change from commercial to residential became law.

But all is not lost for Greengate. The more progressive 49th Ward may become the MMD’s new site. Ald. Joe Moore  is holding a community meeting on Sept. 28 so residents can hear from Bob Kingsley, the owner, about his proposal to locate the MMD at 1930 West Chase (a Rogers).  The site is different from what was proposed for Western, but every bit as attractive:

To quote from Ald. Moore’s announcement,

“Earlier this year, Mr. Kingsley identified a potential site at 1930 W. Chase, located at the northeast corner of Chase and Rogers. For many years, the site was home to Rogers Pantry, a convenience store that primarily sold packaged liquor. Rogers Pantry went out of business several years ago and the building has been standing empty ever since (see photo below).

Until recently, three licenses to operate home day care centers existed within 1,000 feet of the property. For various reasons, none of the license holders actually operated day care centers out of their homes, but because the licenses were on the State’s registry, Mr. Kingsley could not receive a license to operate a dispensary at the Rogers Pantry location until the licenses expired or were withdrawn.” That has now happened.

The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28, at the Pottawattomie Park Field House, 7340 North Rogers.



Will Silverstein Support Downtown MMDs?

Next month the City Council will vote on a proposal to change zoning so that medical marijuana dispensaries could operate in Chicago’s Loop. Right now, all proposed sites are too near day care centers or schools so the zoning change is required. The proposal is backed by Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Ed Burke.

Silverstein blocked the zoning change required for the proposed dispensary in the 50th Ward, claiming that rules applying to the proximity of dispensaries and schools should also apply to dispensaries and parks. Officially she was neutral, which is the kiss of death for anything she opposes.

It will be interesting to see how Silverstein votes.  A “no” vote is likely because a “yes” vote would mean she’s a hypocrite.  Besides, voting against would carry no political consequences since there’s reportedly enough support to pass the ordinance without her involvement.  It’s just like her vote against the Mayor’s budget.

The Loop will get the benefit of jobs and taxes from such sites, and the 50th Ward will continue to observe rather than participate in opportunities for economic improvement.


Does This Resolution Make Sense?

Last December Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied the appeal of its decision not to permit Green Gate Compassion Center to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the 50th Ward. The alderman did not want the MMD although she was officially neutral.

In a comedy of doublespeak, the ZBA explains in its denial of the appeal that it was all Green Gate’s fault for presenting its information to the ZBA when the Board had only four members instead of five. One position was vacant for several months.

Read the ZBA decision here.

Then laugh or cry as you see fit. It’s your government at work.

Pot Goes the Weasel

According to 41st Ward Ald. Anthony Napolitano, a medical marijuana dispensary was approved in his ward despite his opposition because Mayor Emanuel wanted to get back at him for his “no” vote on the property tax increase.

Napolitano is quoted in DNA Info as saying that he is “furious” that the dispensary was approved, especially since ownership of it changed just before the three-hour hearing commenced.

The only “no” vote on the Zoning Board of Appeals came from Commissioner Sheila O’Grady, who also killed the proposed Green Gate Compassion Center in West Ridge. Is it good public policy for a zoning board commissioner to be so close-minded about a specific type of business?

Too bad Emanuel doesn’t want to punish the 50th Ward’s alderman, Debra Silverstein, who also voted against the property tax increase. But Silverstein supported the mayor 98% of the time, according to a recent study from UIC, whereas Napolitano defeated another Rahm 98% supporter, Mary O’Connor.

Maybe that’s the real reason behind the ZBA decision.


Another Rejection for West Ridge MMD

The Green Gate Compassion Center, a licensed medical marijuana dispensary that would have been located on Western Avenue next to Warren Park, has been denied  reconsideration of its application by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to DNA Info, this time the vote was 5-0 against, instead of the 2-2 tie that blocked its original application. The online newspaper also reports that Alderman Silverstein opposed reconsideration.

The fifth vote against Green Gate was cast by the newest member of the Board, Blake Sercye, an attorney with Jenner & Block. He ran for Cook County Board Commissioner in 2014 and lost, although he had the backing of both the Mayor and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Widespread community support, jobs for residents, nearly $500,000 to be invested in property improvements, and relief of pain and suffering for patients authorized to receive medical marijuana were all meaningless to the ZBA, swept aside by the alderman’s insistence on misapplying the law and the well-rehearsed testimony of a child.

The denial of the request for reconsideration is yet another example of the alderman’s indifference to building economic opportunity in the 50th Ward as well as her practice of overruling community input and doing what she wants regardless of the community’s wishes.

Read the full article here.

Marijuana in Warren Park

As you know, the alderman successfully blocked the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary that would have invested nearly $500,000 in real estate improvements and brought jobs to the community. She was aided by a group of children whose spokesman invoked the specter of  medical marijuana patients ambushing him in Warren Park and forcing him to smoke their prescriptions.

This week’s News-Star reports that at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23–a day and time when many children could be expected to be playing in the park–police arrested three adults (two aged 20 and one age 27) and two 16-year-olds in Warren Park for smoking pot. All five were “gathered around a park bench smoking from a pipe.” The paper reports that one man tried to toss “the pipe and a bag of drugs in the bushes,” and that “one of the men was carrying 12 bags of pot packaged for sale, while each of the men had either an individual bag of pot, a glass or metal pipe, or both in their pockets.”  At the time, police were responding to reports that a man with a handgun was in the park.

We all know that drugs are bought, sold, and used in Warren Park.

But at least the park is safe from medical marijuana patients.

Marijuana and the Governor

Governor Bruce Rauner recently vetoed a bill that would have added another eleven conditions, including PTSD, to those already legally approved in Illinois for treatment with medical marijuana. He also killed the four-year extension of the state’s current pilot program, set to expire in January 2018; the governor approved only a four-month extension. Rauner said that a longer extension would be “premature” since the pilot program has not been evaluated because no MMJ has yet been sold in Illinois.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, said that the governor’s veto will result in higher prices for MMJ users because dispensary owners will need to make their investments back sooner, since they will also be unable to plan for a future for their businesses should the pilot program fail. Lang is concerned that MMJ users will instead buy their pot illegally.

The 50th Ward’s Green Gate Compassion Center has yet to receive final approval from the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals, and the alderman remains opposed.

Last Saturday morning I ran a quick errand on California. I didn’t have my cell phone with me. As I was walking west on Devon between Fairfield and California, three young boys rode past me on bicycles. The oldest was no more than 12 or 13, the other two approximately 9 and 10. The two younger boys went into the discount store on the corner, while the older boy lingered at the window of the nearby charity shop, rolling a joint. He was smoking it as the other boys returned, and they sped off.

With all the focus lately on blocking access to medical marijuana by the seriously ill, I have to marvel at just how easy it is for kids this boy’s age to get the illegal stuff. He’s clearly not concerned with being caught, probably because he knows his age will count in his favor and he’s probably not carrying enough for serious legal trouble. The code of the streets means he’d never tell where he got it.

Gov. Rauner supports decriminalizing marijuana but wants to proceed at a slower pace than the legislature has in mind. He recently vetoed a bill that would have increased the amount of cannabis an individual could possess (to 15 grams) while lowering fines (to $55-$125). Using his amendatory powers, the governor lowered the amount to 10 grams, with fines between $100-$200.

Seeing this kid on Saturday, I thought about how easy it is to get pot on the street, and how hard we’re making it for patients to buy it legally. The war on drugs has failed. I think we should legalize marijuana, regulate sales, and tax the hell out of it.

At the very least, we should do a better job of keeping it away from 12-year-old kids.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Tentatively Approved

Friday’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing was an interesting lesson in Chicago politics. Despite a well-reasoned, thoughtful, thorough presentation by Bob Kingsley and his attorney, Thomas Moore, the Zoning Board of Appeals gave only tentative approval for the opening of the Green Gate Compassion Center at 6501 North Western Avenue, next door to Warren Park. For awhile, it appeared that the Board would defer to Ald. Silverstein and a well-rehearsed if bewildered supporting cast of wide-eyed children and deny Mr. Kingsley’s application.

If supporters do not continue to press for approval, that is exactly what will happen. The vote is currently 2 in favor, 1 (plus the alderman) opposed. Only one other member of the ZBA is scheduled to review the transcript and exhibits. If that person votes against, the score will be 2-2. Does that mean another hearing packed with kids?

There were three applications for medical marijuana dispensaries before the Board, the 50th Ward’s being last on the agenda. What happened with the first two was a clear indication of how things are done in this City. It’s well-known that aldermen control zoning in their wards, and that it’s next to impossible to obtain a zoning change if the alderman is opposed. Just ask Zehra Quadri.

First-term Alderman Napolitano of the 41st Ward, to the surprise of the attorney representing the MMD applicant for his ward, Union Group of Illinois, asked for and was granted a continuance because the alderman felt he hadn’t yet gauged the sense of the community on the issue, despite a continuance on this matter from May and an entire summer in which he could have done so. Is public support running against the alderman? He didn’t say. Although the attorney protested that Union Group had been given no notice that the alderman would be seeking a continuance, and had flown in witnesses to testify before the ZBA, and was fully ready to present its case, the Board ruled for the alderman.

Next up was Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine, which sought approval to operate in the 8th Ward. The City Council chamber was packed with over 100 residents from the 8th Ward, the majority carrying commercially-produced signs in opposition. A hand-count by the ZBA toted up 35 residents in support, and 65-70 opposed. Despite a forceful statement by an 8th Ward resident and attorney in support of the proposal, the case was continued until November 20. One of the concerns raised by opponents was the alleged criminal background of the applicant. Another was the fact that the community felt the dispensary applicant had not appeared at community meetings to discuss the proposed business.  The Board’s chairman, Jonathan Swain, speaking to the attorney, noted that, “at the May hearing, you didn’t have any opposition. Now you do.” The alderman for that ward said she’d listen to the community. Case continued.

The 50th Ward was next. All objectors were asked to move to the right side of the room to prepare for testimony; the five adults and 7-8 children did so.

The kids had moved to seats behind me while we waited for the session to start. Only the oldest boy—about 10—could read well enough to find the 50th Ward hearing on the agenda. I turned around asked the kids why they were there. They said their uncle brought them. I asked if they opposed or supported the dispensary. They were firmly opposed, but didn’t know why. The oldest boy offered that “they want to put a drug store in my park.” The kids then went for their uncle. He had been at the May meeting, was warmly greeted at that time by the alderman, but would not speak with me. This time, he told me that he fears for his children if the dispensary is permitted.

He had no qualms, however, about using his children as stage props, rehearsing and coaching them to speak on adult matters they couldn’t possibly understand. Indeed, except for the oldest boy, they were there simply to represent the loss of innocence that their families are sure will occur should medical marijuana be sold in a safe and secure building alongside the park. The families did not express any fears or knowledge of the illicit drugs presently available in that same park or, indeed, throughout the 50th Ward.

Swain began by noting that the City’s Department of Planning had recommended approval of Mr. Kingsley’s application. The alderman was invited to speak her piece, and she said that the application was “somewhat controversial,” that calls and emails to her office indicated that residents were “equally divided” pro and con, with very strong opinions on both sides. Then it was Mr. Kingsley’s turn to present his case for approval.

He and Mr. Moore presented their plans for the site via slide show, with two of the three ZBA members asking questions at every step. Mr. Kingsley and his attorney were well-prepared with answers, stressing the usual points:

Nothing would indicate that the building is a medical marijuana dispensary. No signage would say anything other than the dispensary name, Green Gate Compassion Center.

  • Vehicle entry is through a boom arm, exactly the same as what’s used at parking facilities and banks around the country.
  • Admission to the building itself will be controlled by an armed security guard, who will permit only patients and a parent or parents (in the case of a pediatric patient) into the facility. Admission is by fingerprint ID only. Patients must also have the State-issued MMD card and a valid prescription written by an Illinois doctor.
  • The MMJ is in locked cases, and stored in a vault at night.
  • Trucks delivering MMJ would do so via a locked and fully-secured sally port required by the City.
  • Staff will be searched by guards when leaving for the day to ensure that no inventory leaves with them.
  • Thillens has agreed to handle the dispensary’s cash. It will be recorded in such a way that it becomes Thillens’ property on intake.
  • Kingsley is currently in discussions with Millenium Bank in Palatine and First National Bank in Springfield to handle noncash transactions. Currently, Federal banks will not accept deposits from MMDs.
  • Kingsley is working on setting up a debit card arrangementt for his patients.

Both the head of security and the designer of the dispensary’s security systems spoke about the extensive attention paid to safeguard patients and inventory, which will be counted every day and secured in a vault every night.

The opponents were next. The first three spoke in Spanish, with translation provided by the Board.

Two of the speakers were related to the children now sitting behind them. They insisted that the MMD would imperil their children, that just walking past it on their way to the park would endanger the kids. They kept repeating that kids are curious, that they would want to know what the building is and what the people going inside were doing there. They are convinced that patients will go directly into the park and smoke marijuana, and would toss the roach butts on the ground for the curious children to pick up. One speaker said she supports medical marijuana but doesn’t want the dispensary near the park. The children’s uncle wanted to know if anybody would want an MMD next to their home. He claimed that the MMD should not be a business decision but a decision about children and their future.

The oldest boy, later in the hearing, after visibly being coached by his family, broke into the pro-dispensary testimony to beg the Board not to approve the MMD, claiming that he is “scared of strangers and scared to say no” if patients try to force him to take marijuana. He backed up his uncle’s claim that he would be afraid to walk to the park past the MMD in case patients tried to force their marijuana on him. Not surprisingly, the alderman chimed in to say that it occurred to her that many parents would stop bringing their children to the park if the dispensary were approved.  Both claims are preposterous.

Annie Sindlear, a resident whose children accompanied her to the hearing, pointed out that all the security at Green Gate couldn’t help but make the park safer, and that she had no fears for her children.

Another issue raised by opponents and the alderman is that there are three playgrounds in the park that might be harmed by the presence of the dispensary. Supporters noted that two of the three playgrounds are on the north end of the park, at Pratt, and the third is far enough north of the dispensary and east of Western that no possible harm could be inflicted by the presence of the MMD. [The MMD would be closer to Arthur & Western, with the Pratt playgrounds more than two blocks north.] Indeed, opponents were unable to demonstrate any way in which the dispensary could harm children or adults.

Another speaker expressed concern for seniors, saying that increased traffic brought to the park by the dispensary would endanger seniors crossing the street. Speaking as a senior myself, I must say that we have a lifetime of experience crossing the street, are usually more careful than younger people who tend to dart into traffic, and are quite apable of managing to cross busy streets.

One neighborhood resident claimed that the MMD would be in an “isolated” area with lots of trees and bushes where unsuspecting patients would be ambushed by thugs for their cash on the way into the dispensary, and their medical marijuana on the way out. She claimed that there is little pedestrian traffic around the proposed site of the MMD. This claim makes no sense whatever. Opponents can’t have it both ways. If there’s no foot traffic, how are people, including children, getting into the park? Does everybody enter at Pratt? If so, then what’s the problem? They won’t be passing the dispensary building anyway.

The truth is that anyone can buy pot in Warren Park right now, along with a wide variety of other drugs.  I’ve noticed that the police have recently made arrests involving heroin, and that’s of far more concern than the sale of marijuana for medical purposes. Maybe the alderman’s next multijurisdictional task force can target the park and get rid of the illicit drugs sold where children play.

Speaking in support, Peter Sifnotis, Executive Director of POWR (People of West Ridge), made a case for the economic development the MMD would bring, stressing Mr. Kingsley’s commitment to hiring veterans and the disabled from the two wards in his licensed district (the 49th and 50th). He briefly reviewed the reasons for the legalization of medical marijuana in Illinois, and noted its success in treating a wide variety of diseases. Sifnotis also presented the Board with a petition signed by more than 155 neighborhood residents in support of the MMD.

The Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago submitted a letter in support of the dispensary, and its representative briefly spoke of its benefits for patients.

As one neighborhood resident, Paul, said to me after the meeting, “It’s not always all about the children. Some things are for adults.”

It’s unclear why the alderman is so determined to block this initiative. She claims to support the use of medical marijuana, yet manufactured a concern about children playing in the park in an effort to prevent the dispensary from opening. She has enlisted he support of well-meaning but clearly uninformed families to lead the charge. Opponents are emotionally invested in looking after other people: It’s about protecting the children. It’s about protecting seniors. It’s about protecting the patients.

In reality, it’s about protecting themselves from a changing world they don’t quite accept or understand. One speaker claimed that he feared medical marijuana would lead to heron use. It’s the old if-then theory dressed in protective clothing: If this is permitted, then people will want that, and we’re not going down that road.

Except that we are. Pot will be legalized—and taxed–in the near future. Once that happens, the federal banks will get on board because the money will be too much to resist. Once the banks start to accept checks for pot, there’ll be a momentary cosmic shiver, and then the world will settle down again. As with tobacco, legalization will provide research subjects, and people will be able to make informed choices.

And the children will still play in parks, oblivious to it all.


Meeting to Discuss Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 11, at 6:30 p.m., Ald. Silverstein is hosting a community meeting with Bob Kingsley, the owner of the medical marijuana dispensary proposed for 6501 North Western Avenue. Some of the staff of the dispensary, the Green Gate Compassion Center, are also expected to attend.

Both supporters and opponents of the proposed dispensary are expected to turn out for a full discussion of issues related to the business. Among the issues expected to be raised are the facts that the business is cash-only, that it requires round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week security, and that it would be located next to Warren Park. The alderman has been clear that her opposition to the dispensary is based solely on its location next to a park where children play.

She has met privately with Mr. Kingsley over the summer to discuss her opposition. The community meeting is a result of those discussions.

It was revealed today by the Chicago Sun-Times that, as part of the state’s budgetary crisis, all seven state investigators charged with overseeing both the growers and the sellers of medical marijuana have been laid off.  Their contracts may be renewed once the budget battle has been settled but for now oversight will be handled by other staffers.

Mr. Kingsley has said that he will hire neighborhood residents to staff the dispensary, especially the disabled and military veterans. The business will generate sales taxes. Mr. Kingsley’s proposal includes a full redevelopment of the site. Both the site renderings and a petition in support of the dispensary can be accessed here.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will be conducting a hearing on the proposed dispensary on August 21 at 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers (second floor, City Hall). Any individuals who wish to speak before the Board may sign up before the meeting; sign-up sheets will be located in the back of the room. [This was the procedure at the first hearing, which was postponed until next week.]

The petition referred to above will be presented at that time.

Tuesday’s community meeting will take place at the Croatian Cultural Center, 2845 West Devon Avenue.

Let’s Not Decide Together

DNA Info reported yesterday that the Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a community meeting so residents can learn about and discuss the proposed medical marijuana dispensary that would be located on Milwaukee Avenue. The 41st Ward’s new alderman, Anthony Napolitano, will attend, and told DNA Info that he would listen to both the residents and the Ward’s Zoning Advisory Board before deciding whether to support or oppose the dispensary. [He opposed it during the campaign.]

Imagine: An alderman willing to hold an open meeting with residents and the dispensary’s owners to discuss both sides of the argument for an MMD.

Contrast that with the behavior of Ald. Debra Silverstein in the 50th Ward. She simply declared her opposition to a medical marijuana dispensary and felt no need to tell her constituents why she opposed it. When residents sent e-mails to the ward office and complained on social media about her high-handedness, she backtracked and said she opposed the location, claiming she wanted to protect the ward’s children. The 50th Ward dispensary would be located next to Warren Park where, the alderman said, “hundreds of children” play.

Now she’s raised the fear of crime, an issue that has worked well for her in the past. Because banks and credit card companies will not accept payments for medical marijuana, it’s a cash-only business, and the alderman now says that this is the real issue. She is “not comfortable” with any business that requires 24/7 security, even though that security would be provided by off-duty law enforcement officers.

She has not, however, scheduled any community meetings where residents can meet the dispensary’s owner and discuss with him and the alderman the benefits and drawbacks of locating the dispensary on Western Avenue.

There’s no 50th Ward zoning advisory board, although Silverstein said during her 2011 campaign that she favored creating one. She has, as usual, failed to follow through. This is in keeping with her hands-off policy on economic development. The “spirited economic development plan” she promised during that same campaign has also failed to materialize. She rarely invites residents to open meetings to discuss community issues, unlike other north side aldermen. In the 50th Ward, the people’s business is conducted in secrecy.

It’s fair to say that while she favors community input and economic development, she has no real interest in either.

Because of the Chicago tradition that gives aldermen the final say on economic development in their wards, and the recent back-door maneuvering and packed-meeting decision on the Devon-McCormick theater site redevelopment, I suspect that no amount of community support will allow the dispensary to open on Western–or anyplace else in the 50th Ward.

It doesn’t mean we should give up the fight. It means we have to organize. Sign the petition in support of the MMD. Attend the May 28 hearing. Follow the money. Track her donations and expenditures. Hold her publicly accountable for her positions. You might also read this series of articles from the Chicago Tribune, written in 2008. It’s every bit as relevant today as it was seven years ago.