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Medical Marijuana Dispensary Aims For Northwest Side Of Oak Park

The General

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Illinois - The way Brad Zerman sees it, the ATM business and the medical marijuana business aren't all that different. Both fields are fraught with regulation, which Zerman, who has spent the last 16 years in the ATM services industry, is no stranger to. Zerman believes that he if can make it in the tightly-regulated world of ATMs, then he should have what it takes to run a medical marijuana dispensary, and Oak Park could be his proving ground. In late September, Zerman, 48, was among the 214 applicants who applied for marijuana dispensary licenses through the state's Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Spurred by the state's decision to legalize medical marijuana, the initiative will dole out licenses for 60 dispensaries and 21 grow centers in Illinois sometime by the end of the year. As it narrows down the field of applicants, the Illinois Department of Agriculture will consider every aspect of the prospective licensees, from finances and security plans to personal character and community support. "We will be looking for the most qualified candidates, and that is in all aspects of the application," said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the pilot program.

Zerman's company, Chicago-based Future Transactions Holding LLC, has applied to open dispensaries in Highland Park, Evanston and Oak Park. Those municipalities, he said, were attractive largely because zoning codes there allowed dispensaries to be located in pedestrian areas – as opposed to towns that limit the selling of pot to out-of-the-way locations like manufacturing districts. "We only wanted go to places where we could feel comfortable," said Zerman.

Under Oak Park's code, established earlier this year and based on state guidelines, dispensaries are permitted in non-residential areas that are more than 1,000 feet away from a school or daycare facility. Village Planner Craig Failor said that the village contains about 30 properties that could legally house a dispensary; that number changes "every time a new daycare center opens," he said. Presently, the densest concentration of eligible properties is located on a strip of North Avenue in the village's northwestern quadrant.

Zerman said he believed that having a dispensary in a high foot-traffic corridor would be mutually beneficial, as patients might like to shop or eat in the area before or after their consultation. He added that his business would likely employ around a dozen people at each location, including medical staff, receptionists and security guards.

While scouting properties in the three areas where he applied for licenses, Zerman has had a chance to get to know a handful of the locals. Most of these interactions have been positive, he said, though some "haven't been as welcoming." "There are a lot of things that you can be afraid of," he said, "like whether or not there are going to be stoned people in the parking lot."

Zerman seems up for the challenge of winning over residents who may be on the fence about having a dispensary in their neighborhood, but for now he is more intent on getting his foot in the door of municipalities where he hopes to win a license. As such, he wouldn't say the exact address of his potential Oak Park dispensary – a decision made in part to safeguard against preemptive pushback from neighbors – though he alluded that the property was in a commercial area in the northwest part of the village.

The partnership, Zerman said, was suited to manage the complexities of operating a dispensary. Future Transactions Holding's membership, some of whom are investors in the company, includes a pharmacist who specializes in treating Alzheimer's patients; a clinical psychologist; an attorney from Colorado with dispensary management experience; a Chicago police officer and two former state police officers; and two real estate agents. "We're a varied group," he said. "I think that's what you'll see with many of these applications."

Zerman said that the inspiration for getting into the medical marijuana game came from doing business with the dispensaries. His ATM manufacturing and services company, Sky Processing (or Qualtex, as it is known in corporate filings), which handles more than 13 million transactions per year, performs transaction processing for about 30 medical marijuana dispensaries, many of which are located in the Colorado and in other western parts of the country.

With its emphasis on data security and customer tracking, the medical marijuana industry seemed like a distant cousin to the ATM business; for example, the "seed to sale" tracking mandates, which employ RFID tags to ensure that products are being sold to legitimate prescription holders, felt similar to the technology that Sky Processing used to monitor customer transactions. "It's clear that [medical marijuana] is a very restrictive industry," he said.

In addition to architectural renderings and proof that it met required cash-on-hand minimums, Future Transactions Holding's application included sign-off from Oak Park zoning officials, who reviewed the company's proposal for a location in the village. Zerman's application is currently the only active proposal for a dispensary in Oak Park.

When sorting out its zoning classifications for the dispensaries earlier this year, the village's Board of Trustees opted against an initial plan that would have restricted the use to a few buildings around the intersection of Madison Street and Harlem Avenue. As to whether the village wants a medical marijuana dispensary in Oak Park, Failor said that the trustees' resolution to forgo a local restriction spoke for itself.

"[The Village Board] didn't really go into any detail about their decision, other than that wanted to be able to allow [dispensaries] in our community," he said. A dispensary in the village could be a destination for patients around the county. According to the state, Zerman was one of only three applicants who sought dispensary licenses in the district that encompasses Oak Park, Berwyn, Cicero, River Forest and Riverside. Only one dispensary license will be issued in that district.

Still, with estimates of potential registrants topping off at 200,000 patients statewide, Zerman said that if he does open shop in Oak Park, he didn't expect too much of a rush. "I don't think the store will be very busy, initially, which is probably a good thing," he said. Zerman, who recently became a member of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce, said he was not so much concerned with lines around the corner. He's going to focus on promoting medical marijuana dispensaries as a positive business in the community. "I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised," he said.


News Moderator - The General @ 420 MAGAZINE ®
Source: Elmwoodpark.suntimes.com
Author: Ian Fullerton
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Website: Medical marijuana dispensary aims for northwest side of Oak Park | Elm Leaves
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