After the line, here’s what to expect when you step inside an Illinois pot shop

New cannabis shoppers in Chicago and Illinois are being met with consumer-friendly retail environments with a more corporate vibe that customers have likened to going to an Apple Store, smoothie shop or even a wellness center.

SHARE After the line, here’s what to expect when you step inside an Illinois pot shop
A customer makes a purchase at Rise Joliet, a cannabis dispensary in southwest suburban Joliet.

A customer makes a purchase at Rise Joliet, a cannabis dispensary in southwest suburban Joliet, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Illinois, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The sheer number of enthusiastic first-week customers at Illinois’ pot dispensaries has led to long lines, product shortages and ultimately the temporary closure of a smattering of shops.

Many people have been turned away as shops run out of product for the day.

But if you are lucky enough to get inside, here’s what to expect:

It’s not gonna feel like a place to buy weed


Various marijuana products at Sunnyside Dispensary in Lakview, Monday Dec. 30, 2019.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

You might associate buying pot with back-alley deals or dingy, incense-filled apartments that house the stony neighborhood weed men who were the only guys selling pot until a week ago.

But the influx of new cannabis shoppers in Chicago and Illinois are instead being met with corporatized, consumer-friendly retail environments that feel more like an Apple Store, smoothie shop or even a wellness center.

“Think of a Whole Foods or Sephora … but for cannabis,” River North-based Cresco Labs said after it rebranded all five of its Sunnyside locations across the state.

You’re not going to go inside — at first

Customers — who must have a government-issued ID proving they are 21 or older — aren’t actually spending much time inside Sunnyside’s location in Lake View.

That’s because those folks are first brought to a vacant storefront nearby to fill out order forms and wait, a process that has typically taken hours in the first several days of sales.

“The time inside the dispensary is pretty limited,” said Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes.

At Dispensary 33 in Uptown, customers must also first sit in a waiting room before being brought onto the sales floor.

Kris Krane, the president of Mission dispensary in South Shore, said after coming inside and sitting in a waiting area, patrons are then brought into the sales area five at a time.

You won’t be able to touch anything

Unlike other states, Illinois prohibits customers from touching — or sniffing — any of pot products.

Instead, shops allow customers to ask employees for advice as they peruse up-to-date menus, some of which are loaded onto iPads or giant LED screens, like at The Herbal Care Center on the Near West Side. Rise Joliet was more old-school, handing out printed menus listing what was in supply for recreational customers.

Dispensary 33 features a series of sleek wood cases filled with a range of pot products that are protected by layers of glass. The shop ultimately has to destroy all those products to comply with state law, according to dispensary agent Alex Glass, who said the flower is ground up with kitty litter and then tossed out. 

“We have to eat those costs but we feel like that’s part of the experience,” Glass said.

Labels include the name of the strain, the cultivator and the price and tax. The cards also indicates the percentage of THC — the chemical compound in pot that gets users high — or CBD — another compound in pot that’s used to treat various medical conditions. And there is usually a more detailed description of the product’s effects.

Bring your questions

Customers at Mission can scour computer tablets for products and ask sales associates about items on the menu. To cut down on the amount of questions, the store is adding more detailed descriptions and pictures to the interface, which Krane said is much like any “online ordering platform.”

At Dispensary 33, employees tote tablets and call customers by the name, walk them through their options and do their best to find the best products to match their desired effects.


Many shops, including Sunnyside marijuana dispensary in Elmwood Park, feature digital touchscreens for perusing and order products.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Employees at all the dispensaries may explain how cannabis has historically been divided into two categories: indica and sativa (although after generations of cross-breeding, many strains are now hybrids of the two).

Users looking for a chill strain of flower to smoke before bed might be steered toward indica-dominant strain like Blueberry Clementine, which is grown by Revolution Global. Those seeking a more uplifting, creative experience might be led toward sativa-dominant strains, such as Cresco’s Rollins.


A graphic at a suburban dispensary lists pot products and conditions they are thought to help provide relief for.


Experienced tokers looking for a more intense smoking experience might be told to consider cannabis concentrates that have high percentages of THC. Shoppers looking to light up without getting stoned will likely favor a strain like Verano’s Harle Tsu, which has high levels of CBD.

There are many other products other than cannabis flower

Finally, folks who aren’t particularly looking to smoke traditional-style buds may be told to consider vapes, tinctures, capsules and consumables that can be sipped or eaten.

Glass noted that many of the new customers at Dispensary 33 were gravitating toward gummies and other edibles, which may not have been as easy to find on the black market ahead of legalization.


Marijuana gummies sold at Sunnyside Dispensary in Lake View

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

But health experts warn inexperienced users to go “low and slow” when consuming those products, since ingesting marijuana that way can be unpredictable as the onset is slower and the effects can be more intense.

In addition, customers spooked by a mysterious vaping-related illness that swept the country have been buying up pens and cartridges, Glass said, after investigators found most of the illnesses were caused by black-market vapes cut with dangerous fillers.


Customers making their purchases at Mission Dispensary, Wednesday, Jan. 1 2020. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

I found what I want. Now what?

Workers will get the items you choose and put them in a bag from the store. All the items will be in sealed packaging.

You’ll need to pay, for the most part, in cash. It’s not cheap: with taxes of up to 25 percent on top of sales taxes, the average tab on the second day of recreational sales at Cresco’s five Illinois shops was $135.

However, a few stores accept other payment methods: Customers at Columbia Care in Jefferson Park can use the pot firm’s Columbia National Credit Card, which can be applied for in-store or through the mail. And Mission takes payments through CanPay, an app similar to PayPal that allows users to pay with debit through a third-party vendor.


A customer at Rise Joliet shows off his purchases.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

I bought my weed. Can I bust it out?

Not yet.

You should keep your purchases in the sealed containers they come in after you step outside. You can travel with pot in your car — but again, the law requires it be kept in the sealed container from the store.

But once you get home, you’re free to break the seal — and partake — as long as you’re on private property.

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