SOUTH SHORE — At the Southeast Side’s lone recreational weed dispensary, the line to get in wrapped around its parking lot Wednesday morning, a scene that played out across the state on Day 1 of legalized weed.
And it wasn’t just Chicagoans waiting excitedly outside the Mission South Shore dispensary, 8554 S. Commercial Ave.
The closest dispensary to Northwest Indiana — where weed remains illegal — attracted plenty of Hoosiers.
For a state that’s lured Illinois residents over the border for years for cheaper cigarettes and gasoline, it was now Indiana’s turn to come to Illinois to buy.
Some Hoosiers were cautious, saying they planned to keep their purchases in Illinois. Others planned to head home right away.
Nigel Rowl and Vanessa Moreno drove an hour-and-a-half across the border to arrive at the dispensary at 4:30 a.m. Rowl said his brother lives in Illinois and they’ve made plans to take their goods to his house. He said they won’t be driving across the state line with cannabis, which remains illegal.
“I wouldn’t chance that,” Rowl said.
Illinois residents can purchase up to 30 grams of flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of edibles. Non-residents are limited to half that amount. Mission South Shore had a $300 purchase limit to have enough supply to meet the surge of sales.
The majority of people in line at Mission were from Chicago, like Frank Lucas, who said he was born and raised on the South Side. He got to the dispensary at 5:30 a.m. and thought legal weed would be more consistent than the informal market.
“I don’t got to be speculating about what I’m getting in my cannabis when I smoke,” he said.
When Lucas finally made it inside the dispensary, he advanced past the waiting room, went into the selection process and then into a line to pay. He made his purchase next to Tayron Ross, who made the drive with his girlfriend from Lexington, Ky.
Ross, 25, said he’s smoked weed since he was 13 or 14 years old, but now uses it as a stress reliever, especially to deal with chronic back pain. He hopes Kentucky follows Illinois in legalizing the drug.
“Nobody should be criminalized for smoking marijuana,” he said. “Kentucky is definitely missing out on what the money can do for the [state].”
Ross and his girlfriend plan to stay with some of her relatives in the city and head back tomorrow or Friday.
The first person to buy legal weed on the South Side was Edie Moore, executive director of Chicago Norml, a local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. She made her purchase at exactly 6 a.m. at the Mission South Shore dispensary.
Before the sale, Kris Krane, co-founder of Mission South Shore and its holding company, 4Front Ventures, presented Moore and Norml with a $2,500 dollar check at a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the South Side weed store.
Customers, wrapped in a line around the parking lot, were in a celebratory mood. When Krane asked the crowd to remember this day and keep it in their hearts, a man shouted out that he’d “keep it in my lungs.”
Some customers were treated with coffee and peach cobbler. Everyone experienced long waits.
Moore has been working with Chicago Norml since 2017. At one time she was a partial owner of the Mission dispensary. She said she gave up an ownership stake in 2018. Her previous relationship with the dispensary and its status as the only dispensary open at 6 a.m. on the South Side drew her to the dispensary for the first day of sales.
“It’s … it’s, this is amazing,” she said, having trouble finding the words for the moment.
She was not the first person in line. Not by a long shot.
Marky and Jenny Vee arrived at the dispensary around 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Vee said they were alone in line until about midnight. They rang in the new year playing chess in their tent. Vee said they didn’t sleep all night, brimming with excitement for the big day.
“Oh man, I was like a kid in a candy store. I bought a little bit of everything. I bought some cartridges, bought a bunch of different flower,” he said.
But Vee was a bit sore at missing out on being the first person to purchase legal weed in Illinois.
“That was my goal, intention. I wanted to be the first person, you know, tell the grandkids that I was the first person, but they had some celebrity appearances. I was still one of the first people. … Either way, I mean, it’s a big day for cannabis and the cannabis community, so it’s a cool experience.”
At one point in the morning, all sales came to a halt for about 30 minutes. Krane said he wasn’t sure of the exact cause for the delay.
“We think it was an issue with the integration between our point of sale and the state system. For some reason they weren’t talking to each other the right way, so we were getting error messages on the state system and products that we were supposed to be able to sell saying we can’t sell it,” he said.
The processing issue and the long lines led to a very long wait for some customers.
Brian Hopkins, Joseph Weaver and Chris Myers have been waiting for this day for much longer than the long wait Wednesday morning. Hopkins said they hung out together on New Year’s Eve and decided to wait until 4 a.m. to head to the dispensary.
“I’m like, we got enough time, you know, I know how stoners are, we don’t rush or stuff like that,” he said.
Myers said they’ve been smoking together for quite some time, this will just be the first time it will be legal.
“We’re getting AC/DC cookies and then an order of popcorn buds which is a bag of shake that’s got, I think, a few different brands that will save you some money,” he said.
For Susie Diaz and her daughter, Alidia Diaz, the day was special. They came from Wisconsin and are staying with Diaz’s in-laws. Alidia said weed has deepened their relationship.
“It’s cool, it’s definitely an open experience between us, we get another type of level of bonding and I’m glad to have an open, smoking relationship with my mom,” she said.
Susie Diaz said Wisconsin needs to legalize weed. She said she hopes to someday apply for a medical license in the state.
“You have to hide from all the police and everything, you know, just to try to get something to ease your pain and anxiety … It’s incredible,” she said.
Another man from Indiana, who asked to be identified as “Bob,” was upset with the long wait, but didn’t let it ruin the mood. It took him three hours from the time he got in line outside the dispensary until he reached the line inside to pay.
“It’s a nice establishment that they have here. I’m a little disappointed, I gotta say though, that it’s not like a liquor store where you can go in and they have everything on display,” he said.
Customers selected their product on a tablet with the aid of a customer service associate inside the store and were given the real thing after the purchase.
Bob bought a lot of product.
“One of the pre-rolls we got was A-47, we got some edible gummies. …Um yeah, my memory is terrible, I’ve probably smoked too much,” he said. Bob and his girlfriend bought the legal limit of gummies. He said they plan on driving back to Indiana today, and he isn’t worried about crossing state lines with it.
Tony Gonzales, the general manager of the dispensary, described the delays as a minor issue.
“As with anything new, there’s going to be bumps in the road and I think this morning was the biggest bump we’ve had. That initial log-jam just kind of created that frustration from the people that have been waiting,” he said.
Gonzales, decked out in a custom-made green suit and weed flower tie, said the dispensary had 35 employees at the store on Wednesday. Customers lined up outside. They were initially let into a holding area where their licenses were processed, then moved to a waiting area before they were let into the main retail space to select their product and make their purchase.
State Sen. Heather Steans and State Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Jehan Gordon-Booth toured the dispensary and spoke with Krane and Moore. Cassidy said the day was special.
“It is amazing to see this. We’ve been at this for so many years and there were so many times when it didn’t feel like it was going to happen,” she said. “You don’t always get to watch your birds leave the nest.”
The cannabis zoning ordinance Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed in October split the city into seven cannabis districts. Mission South Shore is the only current dispensary operating in the Southeast District. The state law allowed for cannabis operators to open one stand alone recreational pot shop for every medical dispensary they own.
During the Zoning Board of Appeals lottery in November to medical dispensaries to allow one of the seven cannabis districts to locate their secondary pot shop, Cresco Labs and Windy City Cannabis both chose the Southeast District. Mission did not participate in the city lottery. Krane said they plan to locate their secondary dispensary in the south suburbs.
For Hopkins and his friends, Wednesday was a long time in the making.
“It was absolutely important for us to share this moment together because we’ve been smoking together for god knows how long…it was nice to be able to do it legally in our hometown,” he said.
He said they won’t waste time to smoke what they got.
“We about to go back to my crib, we’re gonna pull out Billy Bong Thornton and get it goin,” he said.
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