Zen Leaf Dispensary Cannot Move To New Rogers Park Store After Competitor Jar Store Gets Approval To Open Nearby

ROGERS PARK Zen Leaf is back to the drawing board in its bid to move to Rogers Park after a rival dispensary beats it to the punch.

The cannabis dispensary chain has asked the city for permission to open near the corner of Clark and Howard streets in Rogers Park, the second proposed relocation for its existing store at 7305 N. Rogers Ave.

But social equity firm Okay Cannabis has also proposed opening at the northwest corner of Clark and Howard streets in a housing development on the Evanston side of the border. Okay, so the cannabis hybrid dispensary-bakery-cafe business got a special use permit from Evanston on May 8, city records show.

Zen Leafs’ proposed new location at 7541 N. Clark St. is 1,500 feet from the Okay Cannabis location, too close for most competing dispensaries, according to state law.

There is a cropped exception to this rule for social equity dispensaries, which can open near established cookware stores. But Zen Leaf, as a multistate cannabis company, doesn’t qualify and can’t open that close to another dispensary, by state law.

Okay, cannabis approval prevents Zen Leaf from opening their Clark Street, Ald location. Confirmed Maria Hadden (49th). Hadden said her office is working with Zen Leaf to find what would be her third proposed new position at Rogers Park. A previous attempt to move into the closed Leonas restaurant failed last year.

This is to try to bolster our small social equity dispensaries over larger stores, Hadden said at a recent state law town hall. We’re still in talks with Zen Leaf, identified maybe a couple of other locations. Stay tuned.

A Zen Leaf spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
Okay Cannabis is opening in the building under construction on the left while Zen Leaf has tried to open in the empty shop on the right.

This is the second time Zen Leafs’ transfer efforts at Rogers Park have stalled.

Zen Leafs parent company Verano purchased what was then known as Green Gate Dispensary in 2021. Green Gate opened as a medical-only dispensary on Rogers Avenue before recreational weed was legalized.

After purchasing the cookware store, Verano looked for a more prominent dispensary location, officials said at a community meeting. The company proposed moving into the former Leonas restaurant at 6935 N. Sheridan Road. But Hadden, after listening to neighbors, asked Verano to consider other locations where his presence could benefit nearby small businesses.

This brought Zen Leaf to Clark Street just south of Howard Street in the Gateway Center Plaza near the Howard Street Red Line station.

The move would have taken Zen Leaf out of a more residential setting on Rogers Avenue and into a major commercial district with plenty of parking and accessible via public transportation, company officials said earlier. Officials at the meeting also said they have no qualms about being close to Okay Cannabis and another proposed dispensary in Rogers Park.

RELATED: Chicago-Evanston border could get 3 dispensaries within 6 blocks as weed stores target Howard and Clark area

Zen Leaf’s proposal required an amendment to the planned development governing the Gateway Center Plaza, which requires City Council approval. It also needed a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, both officials discussed at a community meeting March 8.

After the meeting, Hadden said his office learned Okay Cannabis Evanston’s plans were further along in the approval process than Zen Leafs, the commissioner said in his newsletter.

Okay Cannabis got initial approval from an Evanston committee in April before receiving final approval last week. Evanston City Council has suspended council rules on the introduction and approval of assistance [Okay Cannabis] the timing for obtaining a state cannabis dispensary license finalized for the site, city records show.

Okay Cannabis, which has locations in suburban Wheeling and one on the way to West Town, faces a July 22 deadline to show progress at the Evanston location to keep its state license, according to the Daily Northwestern.

Another social equity dispensary, Perception Cannabis, is planning to open at 7000 N. Clark St. after recently securing Haddens’ backing for the plan.

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