By Claire Cowley
A cannabis business is considering opening at a different West Loop location after facing objections from a rehabilitation center nearby its first choice.
NuMed Chicago originally proposed a cannabis dispensary at 935 W. Randolph St., located on the same block as the Haymarket Rehabilitation Center.
Dan Lustig, president and CEO of Haymarket, objected to the dispensary’s proximity to the center’s entrance, citing concerns it could threaten patient recovery.
Rolando Acosta, an attorney for NuMed, said the company understood the concern and decided to bypass further debate by changing locations.
NuMed now wants to open at 1141 W. Randolph St., a location more distant from Haymarket.
Acosta said NuMed disagrees with Haymarket’s position on the business causing substance abuse patients to relapse.
“Haymarket is primarily an opiate rehabilitation center, and cannabis has been known as a possible treatment for opiates,” Acosta said. “There is no strong evidence cannabis causes addiction leading to rehab.”
Acosta said that, from a medical perspective, the State keeps a list of conditions for which cannabis can be helpful such as stress, sleep epilepsy, and arthritis.
“For recreational purposes, it is purely another substance people can use for their enjoyment,” Acosta said.
Jim Scarpace is executive director of the Gateway Foundation, a drug and alcohol treatment center located near where NuMed operates another facility in Aurora, IL. He said cannabis dispensaries are going to pop up, and some dispensary locations will be detrimental for some people and not for others in the community.
“They’re going to see it as another opportunity to use it recreationally, not switch to other substances and not put themselves at risk,” Scarpace said.
‘High risk situation’
Scarpace said that, for other people in the population, the more dispensaries there are, the harder it will be for those with a substance abuse disorder to stay in recovery. This situation will create high risk for those on their way to treatment, he added.
“When you see that weed dispensary, and you’re struggling with a cannabis abuse disorder (or any substance abuse disorder for that matter), that’s a trigger for you,” he explained. “It reminds you of what it’s like to be high.”
Temptation hard to avoid
Scarpace said cannabis’s availability activates those pathways in one’s brain previously supporting addiction, making temptation hard to avoid—especially if it is so close to a treatment facility.
“I think moving a dispensary from a treatment center area would be beneficial to patients who need help,” he said. “I think safety precautions are important.”
Scarpace noted the State of Illinois has tried diligently to keep THC, the chemical in marijuana that can cause addiction, at a measurable amount within cannabis products.
“I think how much THC that can be in the marijuana that dispensaries sell, in terms of potency, is happening,” he said. “But just because something like marijuana is legal doesn’t mean it is safe.”
When lawmakers were drafting legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana, Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, said the State already had a thriving illegal cannabis market. Althoff and her organization argued that, because dealers sold cannabis illegally and no one really knew what they were buying, the State should consider legalization along with potential tax revenue and product safety.
Althoff said she could not say whether it was a good idea for NuMed to find another location more distant from Haymarket but believes government should be involved.
“My advice would be for any individual or organization interested in gaining access to cannabis business is to ensure they’ve talked to local government authority before making an investment of property,” Althoff said.
She noted numerous restrictions determine where cannabis sites can operate, including local zoning and ordinances.
“There are still, in many areas of Illinois, an attitude of opposition to cannabis,” Althoff said. “The weed industry is still grappling with the belief of cannabis being a gateway drug to harder types of illicit substances.”
Communities must accept
Althoff stressed the importance of locating cannabis businesses within accepting communities. She said her association would never demand local residents and businesses accept a dispensary in an area where people were very vocal about not wanting it there.
NuMed held a virtual meeting in early May; about 40 people attended to hear questions from the community about the company’s new location.
“The only concerns we heard were really from the proposed restaurant next door because it’s not open yet,” Acosta said.
Chef Federico Comacchio, who plans to open Gioia Ristorante + Pastifico at 1133 W. Randolph St, voiced concern about long lines affecting his proposed outdoor sitting area.
“We advised that we don’t anticipate lines outside the door,” Acosta said. “We have a separate room, parking lot, and onsite security where we can hold overflow individuals.”
Acosta said dialogue is important because many times the dispensary management can address and accommodate concerns easily, eliminating objections.
“If anyone wants to have another meeting, certainly we’ll have one,” Acosta said.
If NuMed opens, the Randolph Street dispensary will be the company’s second Chicago location, as it currently owns a dispensary at 1308 W. North Ave.
Haymarket’s Lustig and the local alderman, Walter Burnett, could not be reached for comment.
To reach Acosta, call (312) 636-6937. For the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, see the group’s new website at www.cbail.org/about-cannabiz-il/ or call (815) 482-4567. For the Gateway Foundation, log on to www.gatewayfoundation.org. To reach Haymarket Center, call (312) 226-7984 or log on to www.hcenter.org. For NuMed Chicago, log on to https://numed.com/menu/.