Clouted pot firm makes another run at Rainforest Cafe site 

A clout-heavy cannabis firm has nixed its plan to move a Norwood Park dispensary to the site of the old Rainforest Cafe after learning the proposal was illegal under state law.

But Palatine-based PTS is still looking to set up a pot shop at the former tourist attraction in River North after partnering with Bio-Pharm, a social equity firm that recently won another dispensary license.

Mike Riordan, president of the River North Residents Association, confirmed that a planned community meeting required as part of the city’s special-use zoning approval process was rescheduled after state officials shot down the initial relocation plan. The fact the planned move was illegal was first reported by the Sun-Times. 

PTS had sought to move its dual-use Consume dispensary from 6428 N. Milwaukee Ave. to 605 N. Clark St. Yet the plan was doomed by state law, which prohibits medical dispensaries from moving outside their assigned districts and bars the state’s early retail license holders from moving within 1,500 feet of an operating dispensary.

Mara Georges, a zoning lawyer representing PTS, said the firm believed it had a “viable option” to relocate its existing licenses because the downtown area doesn’t have a medical dispensary. PTS didn’t consider the 1,500-foot rule the “primary issue” because the area already has dispensaries operating within that distance of each other, she said.

Those stores, however, were issued permits at the same time, meaning they weren’t butting up against an existing shop. Partnering with Bio-Pharm was advantageous because the provision doesn’t apply to social equity applicants and its license is designated for the appropriate area.

“They thought they had a viable argument,” Georges said. “It turns out they didn’t and so they’ve now adopted a new strategy.”

Riordan said a new community meeting has been set for May 10 at Maggiano’s Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave., to allow for the required two-week public notice. He added that PTS will “run the operations” at the proposed dispensary under a management agreement with Bio-Pharm, which scored a license to run a recreational dispensary in a state-run lottery.

There is one major hitch to the new plan, though. While Bio-Pharm was designated a license, it’s being held up by a Cook County judge’s order that has blocked the issuance of all 185 new dispensary permits.

Representatives for PTS have been in contact with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office in recent weeks, and the company has deep ties to city government.

Its newly installed CEO is Terry Peterson, a former 17th Ward alderperson who has also served as an aide to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, led the Chicago Housing Authority and chaired the Chicago Transit Authority’s board.

The company is also led by David Flood, whose family owns Flood Brothers Disposal, a trash-hauling company that has held lucrative contracts with city agencies.

His brother, Kevin Flood, ran an unsuccessful campaign in 1995 to unseat the late Ald. Burt Natarus, who for decades controlled the 42nd Ward PTS is now trying to move into. Kevin Flood later rubbed shoulders with the city’s political elite, including Daley and indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), as president of the Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago.

Bio-Pharm, meanwhile, is linked to West Town-based Pickens Kane, which touts itself as the state’s “largest commercial relocation company.” Three individuals listed in state records as Bio-Pharm’s managers are all connected to the company. They didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Georges, who was corporation counsel for the city when Daley was mayor, said both companies have minority ownership, though Bio-Pharm’s managers are all white. Peterson is Black, a rarity for cannabis executives, but Georges wouldn’t say whether he holds an ownership stake.

She said Bio-Pharm earned social equity status by tapping a majority owner a criminal record for a cannabis-related offense.

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