Cannabis in Illinois

History Made: First Legal Cannabis Sales Complete as Dispensaries Open in Illinois

The first dispensaries opened at 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day with hundreds gathered in both Chicago and its suburbs for the history-making first sales

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People lined up for hours at the start of 2020 to be among the first to purchase cannabis from dispensaries in Illinois as recreational marijuana was officially legalized in the new year.

The first dispensaries opened at 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day with hundreds gathered in both Chicago and its suburbs for the history-making first sales. Some people waited more than six hours to get inside.

Illinois officially became the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis.

Jackie Ryan was the first person to make a purchase as doors opened at the Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary on Chicago's North Side.

“It felt surreal,” said Ryan. “It was a little crazy like I’m walking to the counter and there’s cameras everywhere and it’s showing me I’m buying weed, I’m buying legal cannabis. This is just unbelievable.”

Ryan said she bought $120 worth of goods, including edibles.

Arnold Winslow made the first purchase in Elmwood Park at Sunnyside dispensary, walking for nearly two hours to get in line.

"I wanted to be first in line because I have waited 46 years for this moment," he said.

Winslow said he hopes to frame the gram of weed he purchased to "have a momento."  

Some dispensaries used paging systems similar to restaurants, others partnered with local restaurants to offer a warm place to wait before making a purchase. In Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, a coffee pop-up sprouted outside with a movie marathon and cannabis-themed trivia.

"We waited so long for this. Folks have been out here in the cold waiting and we are just so thrilled. Super excited," said Mary Cluxton, regional director for retail at Sunnyside.

At EarthMed Dispensary in Chicago, which claims it has been the "busiest independent dispensary in the state," the first 100 customers also received a commemorative T-shirt with their purchase.

“We take pride in making sure our medical cannabis patients enjoy a great customer experience, and we are ready to expand and do the same for recreational customers,” said Gus Koukoutsakis, EarthMed founder and co-owner.  “We’ve been preparing for this expansion and today we are not only ready to open for an additional customer base, but we are ready to celebrate.”  

City leaders touted the day as historic.

“Chicago is very excited about the opportunities legalized cannabis will create for residents here in our city and across our entire state," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "Over the past seven months, we have worked tirelessly with community stakeholders, business groups and state leaders to ensure this new industry will not only be operated safely and responsibly, but also to help drive economic growth and jobs in our neighborhoods, particularly those that have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs. Together, we will place Chicago and Illinois at the forefront of leveraging the cannabis industry to expand social equity, and create a legalization model the rest of the nation can follow."

But at at least one location in Chicago, concerns over what a dispensary described as a "statewide shortage" kept them from selling cannabis flower to recreational users.

The Herbal Care Center at 1301 S. Western Ave. posted a notice to its website Wednesday saying it was "unable to sell flower to recreational users at this time." The facility was still selling edible products to recreational users, however.

Purchases are restricted to anyone 21 and older with a government-issued ID. Non-Illinois residents won’t be able to buy as much as residents and all purchases must be made in cash.

"We have crowd control from our local police as well as our internal security team," Cluxton said. "We were here late last night preparing. We had a holding room to keep people warm and comfortable. Just making sure that everyone is having the best experience they can."

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