CHICAGO — There’s a battle brewing over the future of a well-known River North property.
Under one proposal, a company called Bio-Pharm LLC would open a marijuana dispensary in the 20,000-square-foot building at 605 North Clark Street.
The property has been vacant since 2020, when the Rainforest Café closed amid the pandemic.
The restaurant chain, known for its giant tree frog on the property, had been open 23 years.
Bio-Pharm is a social equity applicant, meaning it’s led by a minority ownership group. It was awarded a conditional license by the state last year, but its plan to open the dispensary has stalled, in part, amid opposition from some neighbors and pending legal action.
The most recent lawsuit, filed today in Cook County Circuit Court, was brought by the owners of Green Rose, a rival dispensary, also led by a minority ownership group.
Green Rose is one of four dispensaries currently operating in River North, within blocks of the old Rainforest Café.
In its complaint, Green Rose claims Bio-Pharm’s plan would violate a state law aimed at preventing clusters of weed shops from opening too close together.
The law does allow for a social equity licensee, such as Green Rose, to open within 1,500 feet of a corporate owned dispensary.
But what if the existing dispensary is also social equity? That’s where it gets tricky, as the law doesn’t specifically address that scenario.
Green Rose says, regardless, it shouldn’t be allowed.
“We were here first,” said Jay Stewart, compliance director at Green Rose. “Therefore, no new dispensary, social equity or otherwise…can come in.”
Echoing his take, a group of 12 state legislators recently sent a letter to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the agency that oversees cannabis licensing, asking that two social equity operators not be allowed to open within 1,500-feet of each other.
It’s not clear what impact the letter and Green Rose’s lawsuit will have.
It may take the law being changed to bring any real clarity, said state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago).
“If we find out this is an issue – and they decide they want to come to the legislature and ask for restrictions – I’m ready to listen,” said Ford, who has worked on cannabis legislation.
Green Rose’s lawsuit names Bio-Pharm and IDFPR as defendants.
Neither party had an immediate comment.