Mike Cardozo, CEO and founder of Karuna. ( Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

It took Michael Cardozo four years and many trips through the Illinois state bureaucracy, but he is now set to open a cannabis business.

In 2019, his company, the New Jersey-based Karuna Ventures approached the village about opening a recreational cannabis dispensary. Those plans expanded to include a craft grower and an infuser, allowing the company to grow and sell its own cannabis products. But securing the necessary licenses from the state has taken years, and so far, Karuna has only obtained an infuser license. 

The business will operate out of a pair of converted shipping containers placed at a fenced-off area south of the Ferrara Pan Fitness Factory gym building on Circle Ave. Under the village zoning code, infusers are allowed as conditional use – in other words, the village would approve it on case-by-case basis. The application cleared the Forest Park planning and zoning commission in July, and the village council gave the final approval Monday.

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. Since Karuna doesn’t have a dispensary license, it can’t sell its products to the public, but it can sell it to other dispensaries. 

Since Cardozo began his efforts to open a dispensary, there have been several other applications for similar operations. The village council allowed the Bloc dispensary to open at a shuttered CVS at Forest Park’s northeast tip, and the 1937 Group is in the process of opening the dispensary in the original, two-story portion of the Doc Ryan’s bar. 

Mayor Rory Hoskins first mentioned Karuna’s plans to open the infuser back in May, but he didn’t elaborate or share the location. At the time, Cardozo declined to comment as well. But details emerged during the planning and zoning commission meeting. the 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 application described the crates as a temporary arrangement, with the hopes that as the business grows, Karuna will be able to upgrade to something larger elsewhere. 

During Monday’s meeting, commissioner Jessica Voogd said she wanted to make sure that the infuser followed the state law when it came to deliveries and pick-ups, which calls for the delivery area to be screened. Cardoza confirmed that there will be.

“We’ll make sure it looks nice,” he said.

Voogd said she also had concerns about the separation between the entrance for the delivery vehicles and the vehicles that use the part of the parking lot Karuna won’t be using. Cardoza replied that while there is indeed only one entrance right now, he and the landlord, Ferrara Pan Fitness Factory owner Nello Ferrara II, are already talking about creating separate entrances.

Hoskins said that he appreciated that Karuna Ventures was the first entity to want to open a cannabis business in Forest Park – and didn’t give up on it.

“[Cardoza] chose Forest Park – we appreciate that,” he said.