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Windy City Smoke Up offered safe space to get stoned, sell unregulated weed: ‘This is one step closer to what I wish we could do everywhere’

While the city hasn’t set rules for public pot consumption, the event’s organizer insisted it was a private, invitation-only affair and thus “100% legal.” The rapper Afroman was listed as the headline attraction.

Windy City Smoke Up organizer Dom Brown takes a pull from a joint inside the underground warehouse party in West Town on December 5, 2021.
Windy City Smoke Up organizer Dom Brown takes a pull from a joint inside the underground warehouse party in West Town on Sunday.
Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

Under a thick cloud of smoke, a constant rotation of blunts and joints circulated Sunday afternoon at an underground party in West Town that celebrated cannabis legalization while embracing the still-booming black market.

Dozens of attendees paid $55 to $108 just to get into the Windy City Smoke Up, which allowed open weed consumption and was billed as a cannabis expo with live art and music. Afroman, the rapper best known for his stoner anthem “Because I Got High,” was listed as the headline attraction.

In a warehouse in the 2100 block of West Fulton Street, weed smokers sat on leather couches and got stoned as a DJ spun rap and vendors sold their wares, including various black market pot products similar to those found at the state’s highly regulated dispensaries.

“This is one step closer to what I wish we could do everywhere, instead of just Illinois,” Niko Bretti, 26, from Springfield, said while smoking in a VIP lounge.

Eva Hernandez, 31, of Little Village, started Crybaby Sweets four years ago and now churns out pot-infused products she markets online, delivers herself and has sold at similar events. At $10 a pop, her infused brownies, cake truffles and drinks are far cheaper than similar offerings at licensed Illinois pot shops.

Eva Hernandez, selling cannabis-infused edibles, was among the vendors at the Windy City Smoke Up on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Eva Hernandez, selling cannabis-infused edibles, was among the vendors at the Windy City Smoke Up on Sunday.
Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

And while her business remains underground, Hernandez said legalization has made her less fearful of unwanted attention.

“Everything is still illegal as f--- but it’s not as much repercussion now, which is nice,” Hernandez said of her products. “Like nobody’s gonna test my pastry to see if it has real weed in it.”

Dom Brown organized Sunday’s party and other similar events; his goal is to “normalize cannabis and to make it accessible and to take the stigma away from it,” he said.

“I saw a space in Chicago where there was nobody willing to take the risk to produce an event like this — which it’s 100% legal as long as you follow the guidelines,” said Brown, who also hosts a pot-centric YouTube show called “Wake & Bake.”

The Chicago City Council hasn’t set rules for public consumption lounges, which state law allows only in dispensaries and tobacco shops with local approval. A bill that stalled in Springfield earlier this year would have given counties and localities the power to allow marijuana sales and consumption at temporary events, pot clubs and cannabis tours.

Brown, 32, argued his event was a private, invitation-only affair and thus wasn’t subject to the same public consumption rules. But in case issues arose, his attorney and an off-duty cop were both on hand.

Though Brown bemoaned Illinois’ troubled social equity licensing efforts and complained “big corporate brands” still dominate the legal pot market, some existing operators were listed on flyers as sponsors. Those companies — Green Thumb Industries, Progressive Treatment Solutions and Dispensary 33 — didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A native of California, where a robust gray market still thrives, Brown said he’s merely “following the road map of what other successful cities are doing.”

“When we fly out and shoot [the YouTube show] in these places, it’s so normalized, it’s so relaxed and it’s such a part of their society,” he said. “That’s why I come back here and I do my work to move that forward.”

A flyer for the Windy City Smoke Up event on December 5, 2021.