No marijuana to sell yet, but dispensary opens doors anyway

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The operators of this new medical marijuana dispensary in Chicago expect to be selling the drug by December. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Though it won’t be selling medical marijuana until December, an Andersonville medical marijuana dispensary opened Monday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome the public to come check out their operation, which likely will be the first in Chicago to dispense weed.

Zachary Zises, a co-owner of Dispensary 33, 5001 N. Clark St., expects to receive state licensing by Thursday and to begin selling medical marijuana to patients by the first week of December.

Kristie Zises, Zachary’s sister-in-law and CFO, said Dispensary 33 would be the first in Chicago to actually dispense marijuana.

A store in Logan Square, Modern Cannabis, is not far behind. Danny Marks, co-owner of that dispensary, 2874 W. Fullerton Ave., hopes to begin selling marijuana by the first week of January.

Monday’s ribbon cutting came seven days after medical marijuana went on sale in Illinois with the opening of five dispensaries — mostly in the Chicago area. Dozens of happy customers left with cannabis in hand.

“Our space is more customer friendly. There’s a more fortress-like mentality at other places,” said Zises, who worked at the Chicago Board of Trade for 15 years.

“When you walk in, there’s waiting room attendant who is not behind bulletproof glass,” Zises said. “And rather than feeling like you’re walking into a pharmacy, you feel like you’re walking into an Apple Store or a Nordstrom or something like that.”

Patients at Dispensary 33 will be buzzed past a secure door that leads to a retail area where they can discuss their medical needs with well-trained staff and admire a mural of a marijuana plant from seed to full flower, said Zises, 43, who lives in Evanston with his wife and two kids.

The space — which also contains several sleek displays of pipes and other cannabis products — previously housed a pizza restaurant and a coffee shop.

“Today is to say thanks to the community and elected officials and to ‘come out’ — as it were — to the city,” Zises said.

The business has three employees so far and is not affiliated with any larger operation. “We’re sort of a mom and pop shop,” Kristie Zises said.

Paul Lee, who will manage day-to-day operations and interned under a master cannabis grower in Colorado, said Dispensary 33 employees are basically cannabis geeks.

“The people who work here are slightly obsessed with cannabis, whether it be spending hours and days reading research papers and vetting them or literally curating every single product that comes in here,” Lee said.

Interest is high, Lee said. More than 900 people stopped in at two open houses at the shop last weekend, over half of whom were prospective patients, he said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar, whose support was instrumental, also attended the ceremony. “There are a lot of people who desperately need medical cannabis as a way to manage pain,” he said.

“I watched a close friend of mine who passed away recently who would have benefitted greatly from medical cannabis,” Pawar said. “And what ended up happening is this couple ended up having to go to Michigan to find work-arounds and in fact feel like they were criminals when they were just trying to manage pain at the end of a life.”

The medical marijuana pilot program is finally up and running despite being mired in reams of bureaucratic red tape since it was passed by state legislators two years ago.

The news is a relief for many of the 3,300 patients who’ve been approved to buy the drug to combat a list of conditions and diseases ranging from HIV to cancer.

On Nov. 9, five Illinois dispensaries opened: in Addison, Quincy, Canton and Mundelein and downstate Marion.

Other dispensaries planned to open their doors around the state this month and next month.

A total of 18 grow houses and 60 dispensaries have been approved by the state, but the number of dispensaries that open this year may be closer to 50, according to state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a champion of the state’s four-year medical marijuana pilot program that runs through 2017.

Nearly 40 medical conditions have been approved by the state to qualify for the program. Some conditions have been rejected; others are pending approval.

Only customers with medical marijuana cards who are registered with their dispensary of choice will be allowed in to the store’s retail area. A state database will track marijuana sales so that patients cannot exceed the legal limit of 2 1/2 ounces every 14 days.

Last week, after the first day of medical marijuana sales in Illinois, Lang told the the Sun-Times: “Today’s rollout is not perfect. There are certainly many dispensaries that aren’t ready or have limited product, there aren’t enough patients and we still have doctors who aren’t prescribing or recommending cannabis to their patients. But it’s one step on a long road.”

Lang is trying to extend the pilot program so the state can collect more data to use in eventually drafting permanent medical marijuana legislation.


Zachary Zises and Paul Lee, owners of Chicago’s first marijuana dispensary, are shown at the transaction window. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times


Dispensary 33 owners Zachary Zises and Paul Lee say their want their medical marijuana dispensary to feel less like a pharmacy and more like an Apple Store.| Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

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