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Chicago shoppers head outside city limits to find pot — but more weed is coming, dispensaries say

Linda Marsicano, a spokeswoman for Green Thumb Industries, said the company has seen customers traveling from Chicago to its dispensaries located as far as 200 miles away.

People lined up early Jan. 1 before Sunnyside opened in Lake View for the first day of legal sales of recreational marijuana.
People lined up early Jan. 1 before Sunnyside opened for the first day of legal sales of recreational marijuana.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

As long lines and limited recreational supplies have persisted in Chicago since sales began Jan. 1, some are looking beyond the city’s limits to buy marijuana.

Linda Marsicano, a spokeswoman for Green Thumb Industries, said the company has seen customers traveling from Chicago to its Rise dispensaries in suburban Joliet and Mundelein — and even to its location nearly 200 miles away in Canton outside of Peoria.

Marsicano said the three dispensaries have been able to meet demand and not had to suspend their recreational sales, like some Chicago shops have done, in the busy first week. She did not immediately have details on the stores’ wait times, but said the stores’ supplies can be viewed online.

Indeed, before driving any distances, customers looking to shop outside of Chicago are being advised to check dispensaries’ websites or social media beforehand just in case.

Within Chicago, about half of the city’s nine dispensaries that began recreational sales last week have either suspended such sales or will have limited products available Thursday as Illinois’ pot supply issues continue.

A handful of stores — including Dispensary 33 in Uptown, Mission Chicago in South Chicago, NuMed in West Town and Sunnyside in Lakeview — all said they will sell recreational supplies on Thursday, but shoppers were also encouraged to check their websites and social media beforehand for real-time updates on lines or inventory shortages.

Jonah Rapino, of NuMed dispensaries, said the West Town shop has been “steady-selling” since it restocked on recreational supplies after falling short over the weekend. But the company’s stores in East Peoria and Urbana are now facing shortages.

“We’re flip-flopping, whereas before Chicago was low on recreational supplies but now it’s the other stores,” Rapino said. “Starting [Thursday], our Chicago shipments will start coming more regularly, so we expect to hold steady on sales.”

A representative for Sunnyside in Lakeview said the dispensary doesn’t expect to run out of its recreational supply by Thursday, but it has had to cut its line off around 4 p.m. each day.

Dispensary 33 has managed its recreational supply by checking in a limited number of customers each day and sending automated text messages when it’s time to shop. On Wednesday, though, any customer that arrived after 9 a.m. wasn’t able to get checked in, so shoppers are encouraged to arrive early.

Modern Cannabis, The Herbal Care Center and Zen Leaf were all expected to continue recreational sales, but with limited supplies. Zen Leaf, for instance, had no flower products but offered a limited menu of vape oils, edibles and infused beverages.

Columbia Care suspended its recreational sales on Wednesday and only served its medical patients. The dispensary said it would update on its website when adult use sales resumes, while Midway Dispensary has halted its recreational sales since Sunday.

Experts said that Illinois’ recreational cannabis program could be experiencing these shortages for months or even a year as the state’s 21 cultivation centers catch up to the new recreational demand.

Mark De Souza, CEO of Goose Island-based Revolution Global, said the company’s cultivation center in downstate Delavan has been selling out of products within three to six minutes each day. The company has been shipping $200,000 worth of cannabis flower each week.

Beau Whitney, vice president of New Frontier Data, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that analyzes the marijuana market, said Illinois doesn’t have enough growing capacity on the medical side to support the new recreational demand.

Illinois has no immediate plans to license large-scale cultivation centers, but it started accepting applications for up to 40 smaller craft growers on Tuesday. Those granted permits would then need local zoning approval and a few months to produce products, Whitney said.

Andy Seeger, an analyst at the Loop-based cannabis research firm Brightfield Group, said he thinks the situation can improve sooner, but it will take an entire year for the new program “to entirely balance itself out.”

Contributing: Tom Schuba