Karuna Ventures, a New Jersey-based company that has been trying to open a recreational cannabis dispensary in Forest Park since 2019, unveiled plans for a cannabis infusion facility that will be housed inside a pair of converted 40-foot shipping containers that will be placed in a fenced-off area south of the Ferrara Pan Fitness Factory gym building, 1525 Circle Ave.

Mayor Rory Hoskins first talked about Karuna wanting to open a cannabis infuser business during a village council meeting in May. He told the Review that it would be operating out of converted shipping crates, but he declined to say where it might be located. Karuna CEO Michael Cardozo also declined to share any details. The company has licenses to operate an infuser, but because they don’t have a dispensary license, they can’t sell any products themselves. Instead, it will be selling the product to licensed dispensaries. 

The application presented to the Forest Park Planning & Zoning Commission on July 17 says the shipping containers will be placed in the gym’s south parking lot, which is already partially fenced off, and a new electrified fence will be built around it. The application described the containers as a temporary arrangement until the business earns enough money to secure a more permanent location. The Review was unable to confirm whether the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval for the application, but if it did, the village council will still need to vote to grant the final approval.

Cannabis infusers put the oil from the cannabis plant into various products. In August 2022, the Illinois Department of Agriculture issued a compliance alert specifying that those products must be “beverage, food, oil, ointment, tincture, topical formulation, or another product containing cannabis or cannabis concentrate that is not intended to be smoked.”

The notice also specified that cannabis infusers can’t extract the oils themselves — the oils must come from a licensed cultivation center of a craft grower.

Karuna Ventures has always sought to get dispensary, craft grower and infuser licenses. According to Illinois Department of Agriculture records, it currently has a license to operate an infuser business in the industrial space at 1401 Circle Ave. The application states that “the temporary nature of the [converted shipping crates] arrangement is because the applicant is still awaiting results of their craft grower application which will have an impact on the scope of their operations, and to allow them to scale to market at an appropriate speed.”

Ferrara Pan Fitness Factory was founded by Nello Ferrara II, whose family owned the Ferrara Pan candy company until 2012, when it merged with Catterton Partners, which bought a controlling interest and changed the name to Ferrara Candy Company. The name is an homage to his family’s legacy and to signify that hard work and dedication that were important at the candy company are important, too, in fitness. 

The gym has I-1 industrial zoning, where any cannabis business is allowed as a conditional use. In other words, the village council must approve them on a case-by-case basis.

According to the application, the infuser will be housed inside a pair of shipping containers made out of Cor-Ten steel, steel alloy developed by the United States Steel Corporation to resist open-air corrosion. Karuna argued that the materials “make the facility more secure than a conventional style building.” In compliance with the state law, the containers will have round-the-clock security cameras that can be accessed by Forest Park police. It will also have a “24/7 monitored alarm system” with sensors mounted at container doors. The parking lot will have an electronic gate that would stay closed unless a car needs to pass through. The parking lot will also have a “a combination of flood and motion-activated lights.” Karuna will also donate a pair of cameras to the village’s traffic camera system.

“These cameras will be located at nearby intersection [sic] and will provide a greater degree of monitoring and safety to area,” the application stated.

Cardozo did not respond to a request for comment by the Review’s print deadline. 

If the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval, the earliest the village council can vote on the application is Aug. 14.