While suburban Naperville and Arlington Heights approved recreational sales this month, the Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals rejected PharmaCann’s efforts to open a dispensary in the tony Gold Coast neighborhood after residents rallied in opposition.

Chicago-based PharmaCann last November won in a city lottery the right to open three Chicago dispensary locations. While the privately-held company, which also owns a cultivation facility and four Illinois dispensaries outside of Chicago, is still pursuing opening dispensaries in River North and Logan Square, senior vice president Jeremy Unhruh told Grown In that options outside of the city are now being considered for its remaining licenses. 

“While we very much love Chicago, simply just to get our doors open in a reasonable amount of time, we may need to consider alternative municipalities for at least some of our locations,” he said.

Multiple cannabis executives actively pursuing dispensary locations in Chicago cite zoning challenges and renewed aldermanic privilege as barriers. More challenges are expected as social equity license holders, expected to be announced in the coming weeks, begin their own zoning efforts.

“It’s going be a fucking shitshow,” says one cannabis executive who requested to remain anonymous.

Abner Kurtin, CEO of Ascend Wellness Holdings, which operates in multiple states and recently committed $30 million to acquire to MoCa Modern Cannabis’ Chicago dispensary locations, says Chicago is one of many cities where operators face zoning challenges. He also says demographic trends related to Covid are making city locations nationwide less desirable. 

“It’s not really where you want to be today,” he said. “City dispensaries are not doing well across the country. The suburbs with parking are really doing well. We are really focusing more on the suburbs in Chicago.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.