A new normal

Cannabis dispensaries sprout in Springfield

The Springfield City Council in recent months has issued permits for three marijuana dispensaries, including one for Maribis, which is moving its Grandview dispensary to a former phone store at 2451 Denver Drive, near North Dirksen Parkway.

“It’s a more high-traffic location than what you’ve got now, with what I’d say is better accessibility for consumers – it has a better parking lot,” says Chris Stone, managing partner of the real estate company that owns Maribis’ new building. Maribis officials could not be reached for comment.

The new permits could result in six dispensaries owned by four entities within city limits since the state last summer issued permits for three new dispensaries in Sangamon and Menard counties.

There has been no public outcry.

“Mr. Gates, you have a positive staff recommendation,” Timothy Moore, chair of the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission, told Springfield attorney Gordon Gates, lawyer for proprietors of a dispensary planned for the city’s east side, before the commission approved the project in January. “What would you like to say?”

“Nothing,” Gates responded.

One month later, the City Council approved a permit with no discussion, Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin being the only vote against the pot shop dubbed Shangri La that is set to be built on a vacant lot at 3130 South Dirksen Parkway, not far from East Lake Shore Drive. The owner is Herban Quality Control, a Chicago-based limited liability corporation whose principals could not be reached for comment.

“It was, truly, the easiest zoning case I’ve done in a long, long time,” Gates says.

Minutes after blessing Shangri La in February, the council approved a permit to allow a dispensary at a vacant Steak ‘n Shake at Prairie Crossing, also with no discussion. The planning commission's only concern a month earlier had been whether the drive-through window would be used. It will not, a lawyer for Bolden Investments III, the proponent, promised before the commission recommended approval. Principals of Bolden Investments III, who live in Michigan and Cook County, could not be reached for comment.

click to enlarge A new normal
The Springfield City Council has recently issued permits for three marijuana dispensaries, including one slated to open in the former Steak ‘n Shake at Prairie Crossing.
McMenamin, who in 2020 supported a mayoral proposal to cap the number of dispensaries at five, voted in favor of the Prairie Crossing pot shop. He says he had intended to vote no.

“I guess I just spaced out,” McMenamin said in an interview. “It was a mistake. I got distracted. I’ve consistently been against every dispensary, whether it be downtown, east side or west side. I think we’re normalizing something, recreational marijuana, that we should not normalize.”

The Rev. Silas Johnson, who presides at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on the east side, was the only planning commission member to vote against permits for the three new dispensaries within city limits approved since October. He did not respond to phone calls.

In 2019, several people addressed the City Council as it prepared to levy a 3% tax on cannabis, saying that recreational pot in Springfield is a bad idea. The City Council went ahead with the tax. Half goes to police and fire department pension funds, the other half goes to projects intended to help businesses and neighborhoods on the east side.

City budget director William McCarty says that the state Department of Revenue has said cities can’t disclose gross collections from cannabis taxes unless owners of every dispensary sign releases or at least five separate entities set up shop in a town – otherwise, dispensaries could figure out sales figures for competitors.

Before Maribis, the company that’s moving its Grandview shop to Denver Drive, opened a dispensary on Lindbergh Boulevard in 2021, the city was collecting about $70,000 a month in pot taxes from Ascend, which owns dispensaries downtown and on Horizon Drive, less than a mile from the Shangri La site, McCarty said. Ascend signed a release so that tax revenue could be disclosed, but Maribis has not, and so the city can’t disclose current pot tax revenue, he said. However, there has been no surge in revenue as the city has grown accustomed to legal weed, he said.

“For a couple years, it was that one company (Ascend),” McCarty said. “We plateaued within a year or year-and-a-half.”