What’s the Real Reason?

The alderman has once again explained her opposition to a medical marijuana dispensary being located next to Warren Park. Once again, it appears to be an opinion that she got from someone else. Once again, it doesn’t make sense.

First she was “unequivocally opposed.” No reasons given. That opposition apparently resulted in a lot of calls and emails from constituents who support both the science behind medical marijuana and the dispensary’s location on Western Avenue. Then the alderman said that, while she supports the use of medical marijuana, she thinks the location is wrong, citing the “hundreds of children” who use Warren Park on a daily basis.

In response, the dispensary’s owner, Bob Kingsley, released renderings of the proposed site. He also added that security would be provided by off-duty police officers, and noted that the additional lighting and security would be positive outcomes for the community. The alderman remained unconvinced, and took the position that state law banning marijuana dispensaries from locating near schools should also apply to the park, stating that the “intent” of the law was to “protect the kids,” although she has never said how or why she feels the dispensary’s presence would have a negative impact on children.

The renderings reveal a building set back from the sidewalk; customers would cross a beautifully-landscaped plaza to gain admittance to the building. Kingsley plans to spend $400,000 on the building and grounds.  His customers would already have undergone a rigorous screening process to gain acceptance to the state’s MMD program, including fingerprinting and background checks.

The program itself is a pilot plan, limited by law to four years. The law was approved in January 2014; because of delays in writing regulations for the program, nearly 18 months later there isn’t a single dispensary operating in Illinois. State Rep. Lou Lang wrote the bill and has expressed concern that the four-year time limit will expire before any dispensary opens. He is seeking support in Springfield to have the four-year time limit begin on the date the first dispensary opens. See here for an informative article from WGEM in Quincy, Illinois, about the MMD program in Illinois.

In her current newsletter, the alderman now claims that her opposition is based on the fact that medical marijuana is a cash-only business, and that she is “not comfortable” with having a business in the ward that requires such heavy security 24/7. She notes that neither banks nor credit card companies will recognize transactions that involve paying for drugs. This is nonsense.

Marijuana and other drugs are freely available in West Ridge. It’s a cash-only business. Security is provided by thugs with guns. Buying medical marijuana with a prescription is not the same as buying drugs in the alley. Once the banks and credit card companies realize the size of the market and profitability of MMDs, they will not only recognize such transactions but will no doubt begin to invest in them. If anything, the alderman’s argument makes a case for legalizing–and taxing–recreational pot.

I suspect that there’s more here than is readily apparent. The 50th Ward is dying commercially. The alderman who promised “a spirited economic development plan” in 2011 has yet to deliver one word of it. She has no interest whatever in helping to create business districts in West Ridge, and limits her outreach to discount stores and small restaurants. During the recent campaign the only economic plan she described was her intent to invest all her menu money in the Devon street scape.

Recent decisions by her are troubling, suggesting that she prefers one-employee businesses like storage facilities and small ethnic grocery stores to businesses that need multiple employees and would hire from within the community. She does not object when yet another grocery or cell phone store opens. She has no concerns about safety or the amount of cash on hand when 24/7 convenience stores open, nor about the increasing number of stores selling liquor.

Perhaps it’s her fear of losing control of even one business owner in the ward that drives her irrational approach to this issue. Kingsley has fought back against her, making himself and his plans available to the press and to the entire community. a transparency that is usually missing when businesses open in West Ridge. One example of the standard secrecy can be found in the demolition currently taking place on Western–the alderman claims to know nothing whatever about plans for the site, despite the fact that she controls every request for demolition, rebuilding, and rezoning throughout the ward. Nothing happens without her approval.

There are legitimate reasons to oppose an MMD, starting with opposition to legalizing pot in any form. But the alderman has not made a case that justifies her determined opposition to the opening of this business. Worse, she raises the specter of crime–the same issue that carried her to victory in February–to scare the gullible into supporting her position.

The alderman has invited residents to attend the hearing at the Zoning Board of Appeals at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 28, at City Hall. The Zoning Board usually holds its hearings in the City Council chambers. It is imperative that as many pro-dispensary residents attend as possible. The alderman will have no trouble recruiting crowds motivated more by a fear of criminality than rational opposition to the dispensary to attend.

If pro-dispensary residents fail to turn out in sufficient numbers to persuade the Zoning Board to approve this business, then another economic opportunity will be lost in West Ridge. Some smart, progressive alderman will welcome Kingsley and his business to another ward while residents of the 50th Ward wonder, once again, why the alderman doesn’t want real economic development here.



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