Evanston City Council voted on Aug. 11 to agree to lease City-owned property at 1800 Maple Ave. to a medical marijuana dispensary, should the state award a license for it. The vote came on the consent agenda without any public debate. Public comment was limited to a request for support from a prospective dispensary’s representative.
The chances of a state license’s being granted are impossible to predict, given the state law’s requirements and limitations. Under the law, only a single dispensary may locate in the combined Evanston-Niles Township area. The firm that will operate the dispensary will be selected by the state later this year, after an open application process in the fall.
The application process requires prospective dispensaries to obtain the consent of a potential landlord located at least 1,000 feet from an existing school or childcare facility. The 1800 Maple Ave. address fits the criterion, and Council has now authorized a letter indicating its consent to become a medical marijuana dispensary landlord.
While there was no discussion or debate at full City Council, the Human Services Committee took up the matter on Aug.4. No one spoke against the proposal.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, "We are looking at this as an economic development opportunity. … This was too good an opportunity not to pursue." He said that research showed the "experience of other jurisdictions [that have passed medical marijuana usage laws] have not been bad. ... [They] have not had major issues."
One such opportunity is the opportunity to tax. Johanna Nyden of the City’s Economic Development department said that a tax of 4% could bring in anywhere between about $30,000 and $200,000 annually. The wide range comes from the uncertainty of something completely new and untried in Illinois.
"If someone is going to open it up, why not us?" said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. "If there’s money to be made ... it’s a good revenue source for us."
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the 1800 Maple location is ideal because of its accessibility and because of its ground-level location close to two major commuter-train lines and with ample parking nearby.
Three prospective tenants spoke to the Committee on Aug. 4, each encouraging the City to provide letters of consent. John Sullivan, representing one of the groups, said he expected it to be "highly competitive to get one of these licenses."
The 1800 Maple space has been vacant since the Maple Avenue garage was built in the 1990s. It is completely unfinished and still has rocks for a floor. Council members discussed finishing the space to encourage a tenant, said Ald. Tendam, but that never happened.
"The City has $150,000 in the parking fund for build-out," said Ms. Nyden. The space, according to the staff and a map included with it, is one of very few available commercial locations that meet the state’s distance requirements.
The allure of full-market rent for a space vacant for two decades, coupled with the prospect of marijuana sales tax revenue, apparently made the decision a simple one for Council. If all goes well at the state level, a new dispensary for medical marijuana could open as soon as next spring.