First queer-owned adult-use cannabis dispensary could be coming to 'Boystown'

Mon. March 13, 2023 9:30 AM by Ross Forman

former town hall pub space at 3340 n. halsted st.

Queer- and POC-owned weed dispensary proposed for former Town Hall Pub space along North Halsted Street

Plans have been submitted for zoning approval to open an LGBTQ and social equity adult-use cannabis dispensary in Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood and, if approved, the dispensary would be among the only queer-owned cannabis companies in the nation.

Organizers are looking to transform the former Town Hall Pub space, at 3340 N. Halsted St., for a Black, Latino, veteran, queer-led business.

Construction is slated to begin as soon as the city issues zoning approvals and building permits. The business would open to the public after passing required state inspections. The plan will go before the zoning board of appeals as early as April. No zoning change is needed, just a special use approval.

Long-time social equity cannabis advocate Edie Moore teams up with LGBTQ civil rights and business leaders Art Johnston and José “Pepe” Peña as owners of the proposed dispensary. Johnston and Peña are the co-owners for Sidetrack. Johnston is also co-founder of Equality Illinois, the oldest and largest LGBTQ rights organization in the state.

Since 2016, when her mother was seeking to access medical cannabis, Moore has been a staunchly outspoken advocate for criminal justice and Black/Brown cannabis business ownership. “The ‘war on drugs’ disproportionately impacted communities of color, a reality that is even more dire for LGBTQ people of color,” said Moore, noting that Black transgender women living in the Chicago area are 10 times more likely to get arrested than the general population and that 85 percent of incarcerated queer youth are people of color.

“Partnering with Art and Pep brings together our shared commitment to equity, a passion for safe and accessible cannabis, and a recognition of a need for more safe spaces in Chicago – especially for queer folks and people of color.”

Peña fled Cuba in 1962 and has worked in Chicago gay bars since 1970, “Opening a successful, inclusive dispensary is about more than cannabis. It’s about the future of queer enclaves and safe spaces for marginalized communities,” he said. “Ensuring representation in business ownership is a big part of the solution to keep our communities safe and ensure progress.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, marijuana usage rates among gay men and women is nearly two and three times the rate of their straight counterparts, respectively. But this would be the first queer-owned dispensary in Illinois and one of the few in the country, Johnston said. “Access to cannabis is part of our history as queer people, beginning from the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when people were desperate to treat the pain and loss of appetite caused by the disease and early treatments,” Johnston said. “We got organized and helped get cannabis to those suffering. After all these years of prohibition, it will be an honor to provide safe access to cannabis for our community and beyond.”

Moore and the team will present plans for the dispensary during a community meeting 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 13 at the 19th District Police Station, 850 W. Addison St.