The first store in Illinois to combine marijuana and alcohol sales opened in Wheeling on Wednesday, with its owners hoping it will be a place for customers to hang out and relax.
OK Cannabis is unlike any other business in the state, hosting licensed cannabis sales under one roof with West Town Bakery, which serves beer, wine and liquor as well as bakery goods and other food .
The majority owner is Charles Mayfield, the interim chief operating officer for the Chicago Public Schools, while Chicago 47th Ward Eld. Amey Pawar and others are minority owners. They partnered with West Towne Bakery to include a cafe and an event space that can be rented for birthday parties or other occasions.
Through Mayfield, who is African American, the owners qualified as the first social equity dispensary owners to open in the state, and specifically in the suburbs.
The massive 12,000-square-foot space on the former Twin Peaks site in Wheeling’s Restaurant Row on Milwaukee Avenue is much larger than most dispensaries.
The cafe with its own bar is separate from the cannabis sales area. The owners hope to someday add a cannabis consumption area.
The store opened well on Wednesday, with employees still painting and making finishing touches. The grand opening is to be held on Friday.
Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, founded by Scott Weiner and Greg Mohr, operates the bakery, and along with its social equity partners, plans to open two more OK Cannabis locations in Westtown and Evanston in the coming months. West Towne Bakery already has four locations in Chicago.
Mayfield quotes one visitor as saying that the cafe was so cozy, “I could bring my grandmother here.”
Guests must show proof they are 21 to enter the dispensary, but children are allowed into the café when accompanied by a parent or guardian.
After a two-year delay in granting licenses, the state awarded 192 dispensary licenses in 2022. But very few licensees have been unable to open due to lack of funding and zoning and construction delays.
The intention is for people to spend some time there, Weiner said, rather than the purchase-and-exit experience at multiple dispensaries. “Make it an experience,” he said. “We believe this is the next iteration of the cannabis industry.”
Early licensing of medical cannabis companies in Illinois in 2015 resulted in wealthy white men owning nearly the entire industry. The latter licensing process tended to favor “social equity” applicants, generally defined as those living in areas with high rates of poverty or cannabis arrests, or those with low-level marijuana arrests.
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But only six social equity dispensaries have opened, including three in downtown Chicago, plus OK, Altius in Round Lake Beach and Ivy Hall in Crystal Lake.
To simplify the process, eliminating hundreds of page-long applications, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is conducting a new online application process through February 14. Some applicants have said the new selection criteria are based on applicants living in disadvantaged census tracts. made the process complicated.
Of the businesses selected through a previously complex application and lottery process, 41% are majority black-owned, 7% are majority white-owned, and 4% are majority Latino-owned, while 38% of awardees have listed their race. Owners not disclosed.
Mayfield, an Air Force veteran, has majority ownership of the Wheeling and Evanston licenses. He said his full-time job with CPS is separate from OK Cannabis. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation could not immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Pawar is Indian American and a senior fellow at the Economic Security Project, and has worked with the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations. Pawar has partial ownership in all three licenses, which include another group called Kana Ventures at the West Town site, with majority owners Dr. Charlesnica Evans, an epidemiologist at Northwestern Medicine, and Nikki Hayes, LiUNA in Chicago. Is a past president of the Local 1001 chapter. ,
The key to helping other licensees open up, Pawar said, is to pass the federal Secure Banking Act to allow bank financing for cannabis companies and to reschedule or de-schedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.