By Jean Lotus
Back on track after a mistake posting the Zoning Board of Appeals agenda late last month, the ZBA will be convening in a special meeting Thursday, Sept. 4 to consider the zoning process for potential medical cannabis dispensaries in Forest Park. A conditional use ordinance for the Exit Strategy Brewing Company and a new garage for the police department will also be discussed by the board.
Forest Park business owner and dispensary hopeful Linda Cibula will submit an application to open a dispensary she's dubbed St. Fiacre's after "the patron saint of healing herbs" at 7228 Circle Ave. Two other companies will also ask for permission to open medical cannabis dispensaries in Forest Park. One would be at the former Deal$ site at 7709 Roosevelt Road. The third company has not made a public announcement of a location. All three companies are expected to be in attendance at the Sept. 4 ZBA meeting.
Each company will have two hoops to jump through: First, the Forest Park ZBA must approve their location, then the state may or may not grant a license. Only one dispensary location will be approved in Proviso, Leyden and Norwood Townships.
In July, the village council approved a temporary moratorium on all medical pot dispensaries until zoning had been hammered out. The zoning board pre-meeting documents indicate the board will approve locations in the residential business "B2" zone and industrial "I1" and "I2" zones, at least 1,000 feet from any school or daycare provider.
The village council has said they expect the ZBA to recommend a conditional use permit for each medical pot dispensary.
The state will begin to accept applications in a time window between Sept. 8-22. State regulators have hinted companies should include a municipal "green light letter" indicating the host town is welcome to the idea of a medical pot dispensary.
Questions about medical pot
Meanwhile, Cibula hosted an informational session in her stencil shop, Stencib, Aug. 26. Snacking on chocolate chip dessert bars that were presumably un-laced, neighbors asked questions of Cibula and her son John Cibula-Griffith.
Here is a quick overview of the medical cannabis dispensary business as Cibula presented it:
Who qualifies to buy medical marijuana: A medical cannabis recommendation is made by a doctor and limited to patients with one of 40 "debilitating medical conditions" including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's disease, severe fibromyalgia and Parkinson's Disease. Patients will register for identification cards through the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"Illinois has the strictest rules for patients out there," said Cibula. Medical cannabis cannot be dispensed by prescription and is not covered by health insurance.
"No one's going to walk into a doctor and say, 'I have an earache, can I get some?'" Cibula said.
What will be offered: St. Fiacre's will sell pre-packaged medical marijuana in various forms: Cibula said "joints" will be prepackaged in one-, two-, or several joint packages. Other forms sold will include cannabis baked into "edibles" (in other states these include potato chips, peanut butter cookies, peanut brittle, crackers and brownies) and in cooking oils and/or butter. The dispensary will also sell topical salves made with cannabis. Cibula said medical pot ingested in food lasts longer in the system. "We will provide what our customers are asking for," Cibula said. "That's probably going to end up being edibles."
How is it different from recreational marijuana: Cibula said cultivation in ground-breaking states that have already legalized medical cannabis has developed special strains targeted for pain relief with specific chronic medical conditions. "They are sophisticated strains that have been developed in states like Colorado and California. That's the big difference between recreational and medical marijuana," Cibula said.
"If you have nausea from chemotherapy and have no appetite it's different than someone getting high and wanting to eat everything in sight."
How much will it cost: Cibula expects cannabis to cost the same as it does in other U.S. markets, around $450 per oz. Dan Linn, executive director of IL NORML, has said most medicine will be priced close to the illegal market price, to prevent diversion of medical cannabis into the recreational market.
Patients may buy up to 2.5 oz. every two weeks, according to state law. That's around 71 grams. A typical joint weighs 10 milligrams, Cibula said.
Because of federal laws prohibiting the electronic transfer of money from the sale of cannabis, all transactions must be in cash.
"We cannot use national banks, we have to use local banks. And several local banks are very much for this, but they're taking a chance. We're all taking a chance," Cibula said.
Forest Park, as a host municipality, will receive one percent of any sales revenue.
Security required by dispensaries: Cibula said Illinois State Police require 24-hour live surveillance cameras up and down the block where a dispensary is located. A security plan must be submitted to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and the Illinois State Police. All employees must have fingerprints registered with the ISP. Dispensaries must have safes or vaults for the product and a transportation plan from cultivation center to dispensary.
"It's easier to break into Fort Knox," Cibula said. She also said staff would walk any patient to their car to put the product into the trunk. "It will be in an obscure package that fits in your purse."
Personal motivations for opening the business: Cibula said family members with Parkinsons Disease and epilepsy have had to move to Michigan and Colorado (where medical pot is legalized) to get the medical treatments they need for pain relief.
Investment required to open a medical pot dispensary: Dispensary operators require $400,000 in liquid assets, a $5,000 application fee and approval of a surety bond.
If recreational cannabis is legalized, what will happen to this location: Cibula said she wanted to stay in the medical cannabis business. "My end-game is medical marijuana. I have no emotion whatsoever about the recreational." If regulations become more lax after the four-year pilot program, Cibula said she'd like to have kitchen facilities to bake edible forms of medical marijuana.
"My prediction is the rules in Illinois are so strict it will be the last of states to go recreational."