Don Williams (second from right), the Midwest Regional Director for MedMen, said his firm is really “trying to normalize marijuana.”     RoundTable photo                       

State law allows dispensaries for recreational marijuana to begin selling their product as early as Jan. 1 next year.

What is the likelihood an Evanston dispensary will be in operation on that date?

“These guys are going to be functioning on Jan. 1,” said State Rep. Karen Cassidy, receiving assent from representatives of PharmaCann and MedMen Enterprises, sitting with her on a panel at the Oct. 17 Second Ward meeting.

Although an overall deal to purchase the entire company recently fell through, California-based MedMen is in the process of acquiring PharmaCann’s medical marijuana dispensary in Evanston, said Ald. Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, who was chairing the meeting.

The dispensary, located in the City’s self-park garage at 1804 Maple Ave., was among the first in the State to open in 2015.

Under the State Cannabis law State Rep. Cassidy, D14th, helped draft, existing medical dispensaries are eligible to become dual use.

“This is controversial,” Ms. Cassidy said at the meeting, “because from an equity perspective, folks didn’t want to give them [the medical dispensary owners] any more than what they already have, and I get that.

“But let’s get back to the fact that it takes two years from application until the doors open,” she said. “You know we put a pretty heavy cost on them to get that early access, but those existing dispensaries will be eligible to flip the switch on Jan. 1.”

“The first six months will probably be bumpy,” offered panelist Jeremy Unruh, Director of Regulatory & Government Affairs for PharmaCann.

“There will be shortages,” echoed State Rep. Cassidy. “There have been shortages in every marketplace.”

Currently, Mr. Unruh noted, when someone visits PharmaCann’s medical dispensary for the first time “it’s not unusual for that visit to last 45 minutes. And now we’re going to have to retool to what I call a consumer interface or transaction, which should be three to five minutes.”

City officials have drafted a proposed ordinance allowing the dispensaries that follow PharmaCann in certain zoning districts, Johanna Leonard, the City’s Community Development Director, said at the meeting.

The ordinance will update the City’s current Zoning Ordinance to create a definition for a cannabis dispensary business and establish guidelines for the sites, including a 1,500-foot separation requirement between dispensaries and a 750-foot separation from schools, wrote Meagan Jones, the City’s Neighborhood and Land Use Planner in a memo that is expected to be discussed at the Oct. 28 City Council meeting.

Meanwhile, at the Second Ward meeting, Don Williams, Midwest Regional Director, Government Affairs at MedMen, said that firm is eager to get going.

Mr. Williams reported that an estimated 300 people turned up at Oakton Community College recently to learn about jobs in the industry.

Mr. Williams said the California-based company was founded about 10 years ago and is now in six states.

MedMen is structured vertically in that “we do everything from cultivation, manufacturing, to dispensing,” he said, “but primarily we see ourselves as really a mainstream retailer, trying to normalize marijuana.”

State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-18th, also on the panel, thanked fellow legislator State Rep. Cassidy for her work bringing the marijuana bill to this point and shared in the meeting’s excited tone.

“I just want to emphasize this is going to be a really important industry in the next 10 years,” she said. “This is going to create thousands and thousands of jobs in the State. This is going to be where we can get coal miners do something else …,” she said.

“Between our cannabis industry and clean jobs for renewable energy in the State, “there’s going to be a huge boom in both of those arenas,” she predicted.

With the cannabis industry, “it’s not just cannabis itself,” Ms. Gabel emphasized.

Workers trained in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning will also be needed with the need for marijuana to be kept at a particular temperature,” she said.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.