Pot Luck: City of Chicago Holds Lottery For Dispensary Sites

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It had all the makings of a high-stakes bingo game, as players in the state’s soon-to-be-legal recreational cannabis industry gathered at Chicago City Hall Friday to learn where they can locate their businesses.

Existing medical dispensaries have all been given the opportunity to locate a secondary site within their state districts. In the case of the Chicago area, that’s 31 separate businesses. And all applied for sites inside Chicago’s seven designated zones.

“To come down to a lottery is a very unique thing,” said Joe Caltabiano, chief of Chicago-based Cresco Labs. “It’s out of your control.”

He needn’t have worried.

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Chicago to Hold Lottery for Recreational Cannabis Locations

When the first envelope was drawn, Cresco was the name inside, giving them first pick of locations, and Caltabiano chose what is expected to be the most lucrative zone, surrounding Chicago’s downtown area.

“That’s the most important district that’s available in the city,” he told NBC 5. “We’re excited to be where the people are, where the entertainment corridor is, and we think that’s the best opportunity to run a successful business.”

Cresco actually got another downtown location with the lottery’s sixth draw. Chicago-based Pharmacann also received two downtown locations, along with one each in the north and northwest zones.

“I think we did pretty well,” Pharmacann’s Jeffrey Unruh said after the drawing. “So now we have to evaluate what available properties there are in these zones.”

Because only seven dispensaries are allowed in each zone, once the central district was taken, ensuing draws began expanding choices into other area. Dispensary 33’s Zachary Zises claimed a spot in the city’s western district.

“Listen, there are a lot of opportunities in the city,” he said. “For us, the western district represents great neighborhoods and a lot of opportunity.”

No addresses were announced. It will be up to the companies to submit specific locations to the zoning board of appeals for compliance with a variety of city restrictions, and potential input from neighbors.

“We have a lot of ideas,” Unruh said. “We’ve been talking to brokers and so we know where the available pieces of real estate are and we know how they’re zoned. So now e’re really going to have to throw our cards out on the table and make some decisions on where we’re going to focus.”

That said, it’s doubtful any of these locations will be open for business when recreational cannabis becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1. 

“You’re looking at probably six months before some of these stores actually get fully functional,” Caltabiano said, noting that the next opportunity for a zoning hearing doesn’t come until mid-December. “I don’t see any way to get anything up before the first of the year.”

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