By Paul Schneider
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, will walk by it on a daily basis. Shoppers, tourists, parents of Northwestern University undergrads in for a weekend visit, commuters on their way way to work will all pass by its storefront every day, with nary a clue it’s even there.
Later this year, the city of Evanston, Illinois, will allow its first medicinal marijuana dispensary to open right in the heart of its bustling downtown area. And in the interests of its potential clientele, the city and the owners are keeping the aesthetics as low-key as possible.
“I believe there will be signage, but it will be limited and discreet,” said Teddy Scott, CEO of PharmaCann LLC, which owns and will operate the dispensary. PharmaCann owns four dispensaries and two cultivation centers in Illinois.
“You’re not gonna see a marijuana leaf in the window. It’s not the type of business where passersby are going to say, ‘Hey let’s go in there.'”
“These [the people being served] are sick, and so I think we want to give them as much access, and discrete access, as we can. We want to create an environment where there’s no stigma about the association of marijuana, even if it is for medicinal use. We want to eliminate any emotional hurdles that might exist.”
The state of Illinois passed the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program in Aug. 2013, and it went into effect the following Jan. 1. The law established the dispensary and cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, distributed at a maximum rate of 2 1/2 ounces every two weeks to those who hold a license to receive the product.
While the exact date for the opening of the dispensary is still unknown, both Scott and a city of Evanston official agree that the downtown facility will be open business during the latter stages of 2015. According to Evanston Zoning Commissioner Melissa Klotz, the building permit was issued to PharmaCann on June 11, “so if they’ve begun the buildout, then it just started.”
“I would say mid-third at the earliest, no later than the 4th quarter at the latest,” Scott said. “If I had to pick a date, I would say sometime in the 4th quarter.”
Another unknown is the revenue the dispensary will generate. However, Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak intimated that it would be an economic boon for the city, especially because of its downtown location.
“Based on all the projections I’ve made after conversation with the dispensary owners, I expect we’d see approximately $100,000 in revenues in the first year,” Zalmezak said. “We tax 6% wholesale on that.”
“It’s the type of thing where I think we’ll have a better idea of what we have in about 6 or 9 months,” Scott said. “Look, so much of this is happening so fast. Can you imagine even two years ago that we would even be having this conversation about opening a dispensary? This is all still very new for everybody.”
Scott added that setting up shop in Evanston was almost a no-brainer. “Evanston is a very sophisticated and diverse community, and I think the officials there are very proud of their town,” he said.
“I think having it in downtown Evanston is a good location to provide the services for the people who need it,” Zalmezak said, adding that he expects the location to attract clientele from the surrounding Chicagoland suburban areas.
Regardless of where they come from, those in need who are qualified will be served. Everyone else will just go about their day, as if the dispensary doesn’t exist. And for the city of Evanston, that’s a good thing.