The old Rainforest Cafe site in River North has been approved for a marijuana dispensary by the Chicago zoning board.

The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals approved plans for a cannabis dispensary in the former Rainforest Cafe in River North early Saturday.

After hearing the case for four hours and reconvening around 12:45 a.m. Saturday following a closed session, the board voted 3-1 in favor of the application.

A neighborhood resident, Robert Brown, had asked the board to deny the dispensary’s application, questioning Progressive Treatment Solutions’ role in partnering with BioPharm to take over the former restaurant site at 605 N. Clark St.

Brown questioned the partners’ eligibility as a social equity firm under state law — the criterion that allowed the companies to open a Consume brand dispensary in River North, a weed-heavy neighborhood.

Except in the case of ownership by a social equity applicant, Illinois law prohibits dispensaries from opening within 1,500 feet of an existing weed shop. This is part of a legislative effort to increase minority ownership in the booming industry. Four dispensaries are now open within 1,500 feet of the proposed shop, and PTS, which proposed the plan without partners at first, did not qualify as a social equity firm.

Eventually, the company partnered with BioPharm, a social equity firm that won a conditional license in a state-run lottery. BioPharm qualifies as a social equity firm because chief operating officer Kevin Munroe’s father, Michael Munroe, had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in the 1970s and did not attend Friday’s meeting.

Brown argued that it would set an “incredibly dangerous precedent” by allowing non-social equity applicants to “try and find loopholes in the state and city rules to qualify them as social equity licensees.”

Mara Georges, the former top City Hall lawyer who is representing both cannabis companies, cited an earlier this year advisory notice from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation that stated social equity applicants could have a conditional management agreement with a non-social equity applicant.

Three other residents living near the Rainforest Cafe site also objected to the proposal, citing “too many” dispensaries in River North, as well as concerns about crime in the affluent neighborhood.

Terry Peterson, PTS’s chief executive officer, stated that the building will be renovated for $7 million to $10 million, and the dispensary will have 36 full-time employees and 19 part-time employees, as well as four security guards, one of whom will be present around the clock.

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