January 7th, 2020 1:36 PM
A LONG WAIT: Customers line up in the alley to purchase recreational marijuana on Jan. 2, at MedMen Chicago on Lake Street in Oak Park. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer
Contrary to the stereotype of being lazy and unmotivated, marijuana enthusiasts flocked to dispensaries on New Year's Day, when Illinois became the eleventh state in the country to legalize recreational cannabis. Like other Chicago-area dispensaries, Oak Park's dispensary MedMen, 1132 Lake St., was inundated with eager customers looking for their first hit of legal pot. Most customers waiting in line denied requests for comment and those who did would only give their first name.
Ian, a senior at Columbia College Chicago, came to MedMen on New Year's Day. "The line was, like, wrapped around the alley, down the block," Ian said. "Everybody was happy. It was a good time. We were just at the weed store. There were no complaints."
He and a friend went to the dispensary around 12:30 p.m. Jan. 1 and waited about two hours to purchase edibles. Others got there hours before the store's 8 a.m. opening time. Nando's Peri Peri, a restaurant located in the same building as MedMen, passed out coupons to people waiting in line.
"I would have liked to have gotten there earlier, but it would have compromised my New Year's Eve plans," Ian said. "And I'm not that dedicated. I do other things. It just so happens that I can legally get this now and it's a lot of fun."
In the days after Jan. 1, people continued to brave the winter weather, early morning hours and long wait times, happily standing in the lengthy lines to purchase cannabis-laced gummy candies and other newly legal products. The average wait time for Oak Park's MedMen location was about 45 minutes. Men made up the majority of those in line.
Talk of revenue raised from marijuana spread through the MedMen line Jan. 2.
"I don't think anyone realizes how much of a windfall this is going to be," said a man named Bill. "I've been in and out of Chicago and Colorado for the last decade or so for various reasons and Denver has paid for the future with this money. It's incredible."
Bill said that could happen in Illinois, if the government lets it, and the state could use the money to figure out its pension problem.
Jay, who stood next to Bill in line, is also trying to cash in on the legalized cannabis business by investing in MedMen stock.
"I'm telling you, if you're an investor, you should invest in their stock right now," Jay said. As of Jan. 7, MarketWatch listed MedMen stock at $0.51 per share.
Jay wasn't planning on buying anything at MedMen that day. He just wanted to go inside to check it out. "I might buy something, we'll see; I don't really need anything," he said.
"There's a couple things I want to get, like the edible stuff. That's much harder to make on your own, but I can get flower anywhere," Bill said.
Once inside the building, MedMen staff passed out picture-free lists of products available for purchase and took orders on iPads. No cannabis was visible in the dispensary.
Representatives from cannabis cultivation company Aeriz Aeroponic Cannabis were passing out branded lighters and joint rolling paper to people in line.
"We're out here just to say thank you to everybody who is waiting in line and celebrating the end of prohibition," said Aeriz National Sales Director Pat Hannigan,
Aeriz also came out on Jan. 1 to dispensaries. Hannigan called the experience unbelievable.
"We ended up hitting like six or seven shops yesterday, probably saw 2,000 people waiting in line," he said. "It was crazy."
Prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis, Aeriz was already experiencing product shortages.
"We've been running out. We've been a medical cultivator the entire time and it's been like that for us and for most of the large cultivators," Hannigan said.
According to Hannigan, Aeriz is considered a smaller cannabis cultivating company but is growing. Aeriz and other cannabis cultivators are working to better satiate the increased demand.
"Like everyone else, we're trying to build more capacity to grow more, but it was a very short window from when the laws changed, and the market was scaled to serve a 40,000 medical patient-base when it was very hard to get."
Hannigan said Aeriz was unprepared for the change.
"What happened in Illinois is interesting because under the previous governorship, [medical cannabis] was a very restricted program and it was hard to do business here," he said. "And then when the law changed, we began our efforts to scale up immediately, but the size of those projects and the permitting and the construction projects, the financing, every part of it – the six months we had to prepare just wasn't enough."
He added, "And that's been the story for everybody."
Hannigan said it's a good problem to have. And the fight to meet increased demand will pay off.
"Everybody's been working hard, and it'll be worth it."
MedMen is currently only selling recreational cannabis from 8 a.m. to noon to prevent product shortages. Medicinal marijuana can be purchased at any time during store hours. People buying marijuana for medicinal purposes can skip the line.
The entrance to the dispensary is currently located behind the building in the alley until further notice.
"Once an expansion and remodel are completed later this year, we will have a full storefront with entrance and windows on Lake Street," said MedMen Communications Vice President Christian Langbein.
Langbein said MedMen is very excited to be operating in Illinois and that cannabis sales, especially the flowers, are going very well so far.
"We have been experiencing the most demand for flower. Our supply of other products has been consistent," he said.
According to Langbein, MedMen dispensary staff undergo extensive training in both product knowledge and customer service.
If a cannabis novice chooses to imbibe, MedMen staff are happy to answer questions and give advice on what to purchase and the amount to take, as well as the experience to expect.
However, bear in mind that the amount of people waiting in line outnumbers MedMen staff. At the moment, it may take them time to get to your question.
Ian, who is on winter break, returned to Medline and the accompanying waiting queue Jan. 3 to buy more edibles for his brother, who had to work.
"Just running family errands," Ian said.
A man behind Ian in line was retired and another took off work that morning.
At 10:15 a.m. that day, MedMen ran out of flower, the part of the marijuana plant that is smoked.
"We do not have any flower," a MedMen representative announced to the waiting line. MedMen also ran out of flower about three hours into selling New Year's Day.
Curious people under the purchasing age of 21 walked past to check out the excitement, prompting Ian to offer some cautionary advice.
"Don't do drugs if you're not of age," he said. "I feel like someone has to say that."