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Illinois’ first Social Equity-licensed marijuana store is set to open next week

Illinois’ first Social Equity-licensed marijuana store is set to open next week in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.

The Green Rose Dispensary will soon open in the location of the old Carson’s Ribs Ontario restaurant on Wells Street, one of the city’s most famous spots.

“We are very excited to open this dispensary,” said co-owner Thomas Wheeler Jr., a former Chicago police detective. “It’s elegant and unique.”

Green Rose’s wealthy and connected owners at GRI Holdings, Inc. also include restaurateur Phil Stefani and former CTA chief John Trotta. Ross Morreale, co-founder of the state’s marijuana grow center, and Jay Steward, former head of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees marijuana licensing in the state, were consultants on the project.

GRI has qualified for the state’s social equity designation, which provides preferential points for license applications, by hiring at least six employees who meet social equity requirements because they come from areas with high rates of poverty or marijuana arrests, or who previously had minor convictions for cannabis.

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Critics have called for the elimination of this qualifying method for social justice, and instead want diversity in ownership. Wheeler Jr. said GRI’s ownership and management team includes himself, who is African-American, and CEO Gabriel Martinez, a Latino developer, as well as women and LGBTQ employees.

“We’re committed to diversity,” he said.

The recreational dispensary is among at least 185 new licenses issued by the state. While some others are nearing completion, many minority owners have said they have had great difficulty obtaining financing to open their businesses.

The Green Rose will feature automated ordering kiosks as well as budtenders, an online-only counter, and perhaps the highlight of the bustling River North area, free parking.

It will also have a spacious, unique, attractive design, Wheeler Jr. said, with an outdoor mural to be added at a later date.

Wheeler Jr., who grew up in Chicago’s Roseland Heights neighborhood, is the store’s chief security officer. The position marks a career change for the former officer as the recreational sale of cannabis was legalized in Illinois in 2020, though it remains illegal at the federal level.

“I feel good because it’s legal now,” he said. “I can shift gears too. I know how good and well regulated the products are. It gives me peace.”


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