MUNDELEIN, Ill. - The first day of legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois gave a whole new meaning to Happy New Year.
Pot dispensaries opened on Wednesday in Illinois, and they were greeted with long lines of consumers, eager to legally purchase marijuana.
Illinois became the 11th state in the country to legalize weed, and at Rise Mundelein — some 60 miles south of downtown Milwaukee — customers were waiting an average of four hours for much of the day to make their purchases.
“It’s about time,” said Mark Evans of Skokie.
Yes, he was frustrated by the long lines that snaked around the property as reggae music (of course) blared from speakers in this industrial park west of Interstate 94.
But Evans, 22, was thinking about the law.
The situation is different in Wisconsin, where pot remains illegal. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, wants to allow state residents to possess small amounts of marijuana and legalize its use for medical reasons. But he is not getting support from Republican leaders in the Legislature.
The Illinois law allows out-of-state citizens, age 21 and older, to purchase cannabis products — but only half the amount as residents south of the border.
Also, employees at Rise advise out-of-state residents that it is illegal to transport their products over the border, Ben Kovler said.
Kovler is chief executive officer and founder of Green Thumb Industries, a publicly traded national cannabis cultivator, processor and dispensary operator in 12 states.
He started the company in Chicago in 2014 after stints in finance and teaching math. The company has seven stores in Illinois. Rise Mundelein is one of its stores.
Wisconsin is currently not in the company’s plans. “I hear things are slow there,” he said.
“The market here (in Illinois) is strong. There is so much demand.”
If license plates and chance encounters were any measures, residents of Wisconsin were ready and willing to buy legal pot and gloss over the restriction on out-of-state transport.
Nick Goetz, 28, an accountant from Milwaukee, was in line with a friend and found the ability to make a legal buy comforting.
He expected to spend $120 to $200 and described his anticipated buy as a “late Christmas present.”
“It’s safer, rather than buying it in some stranger’s house, or someone you don’t know that well,” Goetz said. “It’s regulated. There is just more watchful eyes than if it was coming out of someone’s trunk.”
Indeed, while legal Illinois pot is more expensive, buyers here said that there was value in knowing that marijuana plants, and various byproducts, were produced in a regulated setting.
|Jerrimiah Sullivan of McHenry, Illinois, and Haley Tolbert of Delavan wait in line to buy marijuana in Mundelein, Illinois, on Wednesday, the first day of legalization in the state. (Photo: Lee Bergquist / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)|
Haley Tolbert, 21, of Delavan and her friend, Jerrimiah Sullivan of McHenry, Illinois, were planning to spend about $100.
“Not having to go out on the street — it’s so much better to know what you are getting,” she said.
A 21-year-old man from Burlington agreed. “I can definitely get it cheaper in Wisconsin, but the quality will be more consistent,” he said
Megan, 30, of Kenosha who was standing in line next to him, said that she was curious about how the products would compare to her usual sources.
“I’m a single mother of three and I smoke pot every day,” she said. She does not drink alcohol
Megan speculated the lines will go down in a few weeks as buyers are drawn back to lower prices charged by their traditional, illegal suppliers.
She said she was paying $50 for 7 grams on the street. Inside, Rise was charging $130, plus taxes for 7 grams.
As buyers head back across the state line, Wisconsin law enforcement said they will be watching.
“Our stance on it is that it is still illegal in Wisconsin and the law will continue to be enforced in the same manner,” said Bradley Ocain, a sergeant with the Wisconsin State Patrol.
But the State Patrol was not initiating any special enforcement because of Illinois’ law change.
Drivers pulled over are given a field test, and if it’s believed they are impaired, they are taken to a hospital for a blood test, Ocain said. They could be prosecuted for driving under the influence.
According to a spokesman for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department:
“We’re definitely going to be watching for it. It’s not going to change how we do our jobs, because we are always looking for it.”
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