Medical marijuana shop gets state’s OK to open in Oak Park

State officials have awarded a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary planned for the corner of North and Harlem avenues in Oak Park.

Future Transactions Holdings, LLC won the sole license to operate a marijuana dispensary in Oak Park, River Forest, Berwyn, Cicero and Riverside. It will be one of the state’s 60 dispensaries under the four-year pilot program.

The dispensary’s tentative name is “District 36,” named after the Illinois State Police district it’s located within.

Its owner is Chicagoan Brad Zerman. He’s also the CEO of Sky Processing, an ATM processing service company located at 3360 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago, which already processes cash for marijuana dispensaries in Colorado.

After talking to some of his clients at a trade show in Colorado and some of his Chicago-area friends, Zerman decided to apply for three licenses within Illinois. One application was in Highland Park, one was in Evanston and one was in Oak Park. In total, after hiring consultants, the three applications cost him about $200,000.

“There are just so many components to this, there was no room for error,” said Zerman. “The state could just go to the next applicant because it was so competitive.”

When applying for the licenses, Zerman said he chose municipalities that were “forward-thinking” and would not impose additional zoning regulations that would force his business into a manufacturing zone, like Morton Grove or Niles.

“According to Oak Park’s zoning department all we have to do is apply for a village business license,” said Zerman. “And the state is imposing such a high bar for security that it made sense to open the business in a commercial area with high traffic that’s well lit and regularly patrolled by police.”

Paul Stephanides, Oak Park’s village attorney, said the dispensary would most likely be regulated within the village the same way pharmacies currently are.

In a statement Monday, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s General Counsel Jason Barclay said his office conducted a comprehensive review of the process ex-Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration used to recommend applicants for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Barclay said Quinn’s administration imposed arbitrary scoring cutoffs that were not authorized in the state law and that agencies conducted character and fitness reviews, which they suggested came at the wrong stage of the process. He also said some applicants were disqualified without clear procedures.

“These actions may result in some additional minimal delay in a limited number of districts and for that, we apologize to the patient community,” Barclay said.

The state estimates that it will take at least six months for most of Illinois’ marijuana growing centers to get their operations up and running now that they’ve been approved.

For now, medical marijuana in Illinois is a pilot program with a four-year life span. If the state doesn’t renew the medical marijuana law, Zerman and other marijuana businesses in Illinois may lose their investment. But he’s not worried, for now.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” said Zerman. “Yes, it is a risk, but given where the state is going, and provided it does a good job overseeing these businesses, I don’t see why they wouldn’t renew the law.”

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