Illinois: Pot firms look to hit jackpot in Friday lottery to determine locations of city’s 1st recreational shops

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A bingo-like lottery will be held Friday morning at City Hall to determine where existing cannabis firms can open Chicago’s first recreational pot shops.

Nineteen companies will systematically choose which of the city’s seven districts for recreational dispensaries they plan to move into, according to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which is administering the lottery. While Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s zoning ordinance caps the number of dispensaries in each district at seven, only 38 of the spots will be filled on Friday — including all of the locations in and around the Loop.

Though Lightfoot’s cannabis zoning ordinance prohibits sales in much of the Central Business District, the clear jackpot for cannabis sales remains the downtown area.

“We’ve said all along that we want to be where the people are, so the Central Business District is certainly attractive to us,” said Jason Erkes, spokesman for River North-based Cresco Labs, which is looking to open three recreational dispensaries in the city.

Under the statewide legalization law, each medical pot store can be converted into a dual-use shop and operators can open an additional recreational dispensary. Five of the companies entered in the lottery currently operate multiple medical stores, giving them an edge in the drawing.

On Friday, cards signifying each current medical license will be put into a drum, mixed and randomly selected. After a card is drawn, the winning applicant will have three minutes to select a zone before the process starts again.

Once a zone is maxed out at seven, companies can either choose from the existing districts or forego its selection.

Erkes predicted that some companies may choose to locate outside the city if their bids for a centrally-located dispensary go bust. But Abigail Watkins, spokeswoman for Dispensary 33 in Uptown, said her firm would be willing to open up shop outside that prime retail district.

“There are a lot of different neighborhoods that need access to cannabis,” Watkins noted.

Firms will have a year to submit a special use permit to the zoning board to set up a shop anywhere in their chosen district that isn’t within 1,500 feet of another pot shop or 500 feet of a school. Then after holding a public meeting, the zoning board will consider whether to dole out a permit.

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