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From drag club to pot shop?

Cresco and Grassroots are seeking the first new weed stores, in River North, under the new city zoning rules. It's just the start of a long process. 

Cresco Labs wants to turn the former Baton Show Lounge, a drag club that operated for almost 50 years at 436 N. Clark St., into a marijuana shop.

Cresco is among the first marijuana companies seeking approval for new retail shops under the city’s new zoning laws for recreational marijuana.

Grassroots, another large cannabis company, is seeking approval for a store under its Greenhouse Group brand at 612 N. Wells St., formerly home to Carson’s Ribs, according to the Chicago Tribune, which first reported Cresco’s application. 

Crain’s reported in August that the former Carson’s site was under consideration for a weed store. 

But that was before the city threw the marijuana companies a couple of curveballs. Under the Illinois law that allows recreational marijuana sales beginning Jan. 1, the state’s 55 existing medical-marijuana companies, such as Cresco and Grassroots, can sell to recreational users as well as medical patients. Each medical license holder also is allowed to open an additional location.

But local governments were given the right to set the zoning rules that would allow or prohibit recreational pot shops. Chicago, seen as the largest market in the state, set its own zoning rules. The city was seen as the prize for retail marijuana companies, who were scouring downtown for locations.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a major portion of downtown would be off-limits to marijuana shops. She went further in an effort to take advantage of the expected demand for weed to spread the economic impact across the city, dividing it into seven districts, each of which initially will allow seven retail locations. It then held a lottery to determine which of the roughly 35 medical license holders in the greater metro area who were eligible to open a city location could seek zoning approval.

Cresco and Grassroots were among the companies winning coveted downtown picks. However, they still must go through a complicated process through the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which must grant a special-use permit to marijuana companies. But first they must hold a community meeting to get input and sign-off, en route to City Council approval.

The process could take months. The Zoning Board of Appeals doesn’t expect to have its first hearing on an application for a new marijuana retail site until its January meeting at the soonest.

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