Weed dispensary plan at old Rainforest Cafe in River North goes up in smoke

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Weed dispensary plan at old Rainforest Cafe in River North goes up in smoke

Two lawsuits sought to block the joint venture between Progressive Treatment Solutions LLC and Bio-Pharm for an outlet at 605 N Clark St.

 A plan to transform the former Rainforest Cafe in River North into a pot dispensary has been scrapped by two marijuana firms.

Mara Georges, an attorney who represented Progressive Treatment Solutions LLC and Bio-Pharm, confirmed the move in an email Wednesday morning. The news was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

The companies were facing two lawsuits seeking to block a dispensary from opening at 605 N. Clark St. — which previously housed the colorful Rainforest Cafe. The building has been vacant since the restaurant closed in 2020.

“The development of the former Rain Forest Café site was delayed by litigation and the uncertainty and additional costs it brings,” Georges said in a statement. “As a result, PTS and Bio-Pharm have decided to forego this site and pursue other options. They remain committed to ensuring the success of their companies and of the cannabis industry.”

Palatine-based PTS had initially sought to move its dual-use pot shop from 6428 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Norwood Park to the River North location.

But the plan was nixed by state officials because state law prohibits a dispensary from opening within 1,500 feet of an existing shop.

There are at least three dispensaries that appear to be within that distance from the Rainforest Cafe. The fact the planned move was illegal was first reported by the Sun-Times.

But the law has an exception for dispensaries owned by a social equity applicant, those given preference in the pot licensing process in an effort to bolster diversity in the industry.

In April 2022, PTS teamed up with BioPharm, a social equity firm that was awarded a conditional license in a state-run lottery, and tried again to set up a pot shop at the site. 

BioPharm qualifies as a social equity firm because Chief Operating Officer Kevin Munroe’s father, Michael Munroe, had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in the 1970s.

The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals approved the application from the two companies in November 2022.

But two separate lawsuits were filed to stop the move, one by River North resident Robert Brown, and another by GRI Holdings, which owns Green Rose Dispensary at 612 N. Wells, one of the shops near the old Rainforest Cafe.

Brown alleged that the city had illegally approved the zoning and that the joint venture skirted the law establishing the social equity program because PTS doesn’t hold the dispensary license.

He was also concerned that opening another dispensary in the neighborhood could slash property values and drive up crime in the affluent neighborhood near the Loop.

“The neighborhood has just gone to pot,” Brown previously told the Sun-Times.

The suit brought by GRI, a clouted firm with deep ties to state government, alleged that the exception allowing social equity pot shops to open next to each other is a misinterpretation of the state law by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

“GRI is happy to hear BioPharm will no longer pursue a dispensary at this location,” the company said in a statement. “GRI will always vigorously defend its business from those who fail to adhere to the state law.”

PTS has deep ties to city government. Terry Peterson, the company’s chief executive, is a former 17th Ward alderperson who has also served as an aide to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, led the Chicago Housing Authority and chaired the Chicago Transit Authority’s board.

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Region: Illinois

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