St. Charles medical dispensary makes its case to sell recreational pot

  • Zen Leaf, a medical marijuana dispensary in St. Charles, is requesting a zoning change that would allow the business to also sell recreational marijuana out of its existing location at 3714 Illinois Ave.

      Zen Leaf, a medical marijuana dispensary in St. Charles, is requesting a zoning change that would allow the business to also sell recreational marijuana out of its existing location at 3714 Illinois Ave. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/5/2019 10:26 AM

The average number of patrons visiting a St. Charles medical marijuana dispensary would likely grow from 100 to 450 per day if the city allowed recreational sales to take place under the same roof.


Other than an increased customer base, operations at Zen Leaf would remain largely unchanged with respect to compliance, security and the overall experience, company representatives told the plan commission Tuesday during a second meeting on the topic.

But some community members worry that recreational sales will hurt surrounding businesses.

Dispensary operator Healthway Services of West Illinois LLC has been petitioning the city to permit adult-use marijuana sales in a limited manufacturing district -- a necessary step ahead of its request to allow the special use at 3714 Illinois Ave., where Zen Leaf has operated for nearly four years.

The business has a "flawless" track record, said Anthony Marsico, executive vice president of retail. Given that medical marijuana sales are allowed, it would make sense for Zen Leaf to also have recreational sales when a new state law takes effect Jan. 1, he said. The dispensary plans to secure more parking and implement other measures to accommodate additional customers.

"Having a good working relationship with the police chief and fire chief, there's a level of comfort," he said. "We're good stewards of the community, and we want to partner with the community."

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However, some owners and clients of neighboring businesses said they fear an adult-use marijuana retailer would cast a negative light on the complex as a whole.

Concerns were raised over potential traffic issues, parking shortages and clientele "loitering" outside the dispensary -- a problem that could lead to an "immediate loss of business" for the nearby Beth Fowler School of Dance, said resident Gary King, whose daughter has danced there 11 years.

"Her business is solely dependent on the trust of parents," he said. "If 11 years ago, there was a dispensary in town next to Beth Fowler School of Dance, we would not have been there. That's just plain simple."

In October, the city council adopted regulations for up to two recreational marijuana shops, one of which must be linked to a medical marijuana facility that has operated in St. Charles for a year. Zen Leaf is the only business that qualifies, but its current shop is outside the zoning districts where the special use is permitted.


At an initial public hearing last month, plan commission members expressed concerns that Zen Leaf's proposed zoning amendment would accommodate only the applicant, rather than serve the entire community. But several city officials previously indicated their desire for the dispensary to stay in town, Marsico said, hence the specificity of their special use provisions.

"I think the idea of doing business with someone everyone's comfortable with and has operated responsibly ... is in the best interest of the public," he said.

The public hearing continues at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 in the city council chambers, 2 E. Main St. The plan commission is expected to make separate recommendations on the proposed zoning amendment and on whether to grant Zen Leaf a special use.

The proposals would then have to go before the planning and development committee before being considered by the city council.

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