Journal & Topics Media Group

Wheeling ‘Okays’ Cannabis Smoking Lounge

OKAY Cannabis and West Town Bakery Location at 781 N. Milwaukee Ave. The front room under the signs is where OKAY plans to put the cannabis smoking lounge. (Noah Festenstein/Journal Photo)

Met with some resistance, Wheeling trustees ended up unanimously approving permits for OKAY Cannabis to operate a marijuana smoking lounge at its recently built 781 N. Milwaukee Ave. dispensary and West Town Bakery location.

According to OKAY Cannabis property owner Scott Weiner, the smoking room can only be accessed by going through the dispensary, and that protocols will be stricter on safety compared to other nearby cannabis smoking lounges. 

Remarks made by citizens during the Monday, May 15 village board meeting showed both support and opposition for a cannabis smoking lounge in Wheeling.

Two Wheeling-area residents stood in front of trustees in support of the idea, stating they look forward to the opportunity of being able to use a consumption lounge.

It was the other side of the coin presented by a local resident, telling trustees she believes a cannabis smoking lounge could give the village a bad reputation. “I think it is a public safety risk,” she said, adding that people will smoke, go on the roads and potentially get a DUI.

In response to this, trustees asked Wheeling Police Chief Jamie Dunne if there had been any DUIs involved with two of the town’s cannabis dispensaries, to which Dunne reported there had been none. In addition, Weiner said the company is instituting a 30-minute “cooldown” period for those who take part in the smoking lounge.

As a former local resident, Weiner said the Lake Cook Road and Milwaukee Avenue intersection introduces that end of Wheeling’s coveted Restaurant Row. “To a certain extent we anchor it on one side of Wheeling,” Weiner said. “It’s such a unique place that this is just going to provide another opportunity for Restaurant Row.”

With the recent Restaurant Row Corridor Plan proposed, Wheeling is seeking to make periodical improvements to the area, and the OKAY Cannabis/West Town Bakery hybrid shopping experience, Weiner says, will only add to that. 

After opening on Feb. 3, Weiner said OKAY Cannabis heard requests for a smoking lounge. “Since day one people assumed that we had it,” he said.

Another concern provided was the legality at which cannabis can be consumed on site. According to Illinois law, permitted cannabis dispensaries, if space allows, can have a secured cannabis consuming area on-site but only with municipality approval.

Illinois is one of 10 states in the country where cannabis smoking lounges are legal. According to Weiner, the state already has 19 lounges with a potential of having up to 500. The closest of which is Rise dispensary in Mundelein.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, Weiner and his team, in cooperation with Wheeling plan commissioners, worked through most of the 10 recommendations for OKAY Dispensary to follow while operating its smoking lounge.

These recommendations include internal exhaust system reports, no alcohol consumption, no in-lounge food preparations, no personal smoking devices or aids unless bought at the store, all cannabis used must be bought at the dispensary, no use of cannabis-infused food, no samples, and a 90-minute time limit with the 30-minute cooldown.

With these “strict” stipulations, Weiner added the dispensary will only take reservations for the lounges in order to “keep track of who is coming in and out and at what time.”

According to floor plans submitted by OKAY Cannabis, the consumption room will be located south of the building where customers have normally exited the dispensary.

Weiner did not indicate when the smoking lounge will open, but now with village approval, the lounge will be the first of its kind in the area.

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