In Michi­gan, they’re run­ning out of pot


Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ally Marotti

The hoopla there hints at what might come to Illi­nois when le­gal weed sales start Jan. 1. Dis­pen­saries are gear­ing up.

For the past two weeks, Rami Karad­sheh has been on hot choco­late duty. Karad­sheh usu­ally works in a mar­i­juana com­pany’s ware­house on the out­skirts of Ann Ar­bor. But ever since Michi­gan launched recre­ational weed sales Dec. 1, cus­tomers have flocked from all over the Mid­west to mar­i­juana stores in Ann Ar­bor.

Along with rows of tents and heaters, hot choco­late helps the roughly 1,000 peo­ple who line up out­side of Ex­clu­sive Pro­vi­sion­ing Cen­ter each day.

“I couldn’t tell you how many boxes of these we went through,” Karad­sheh said, point­ing to a pile of empty co­coa mix pack­ages out­side the store.

The first days and weeks of le­gal mar­i­juana sales have cre­ated a scene in Ann Ar­bor, a city that’s home to the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and known as tol­er­ant to­ward weed.

Cus­tomers waited for hours in lines that wound out of dis­pen­saries, past neigh­bor­ing busi­nesses and around corners. Bun­dled up against the cold, they or­dered food and cof­fee, dis­cussed what they wanted to buy, and wor­ried that stores might run out of weed be­fore they got through the door.

Nearly two weeks af­ter sales started, ve­hi­cles in Ex­clu­sive Pro­vi­sion­ing’s park­ing lot bore li­cense plates from Illi­nois, Ohio, Kansas and In­di­ana. There was ex­cite­ment about be­ing a part of his­tory, even if it meant wait­ing in the cold.

The hoopla hints at what’s to come in Illi­nois when le­gal weed sales start Jan. 1. Though a sim­i­lar crush of business is ex­pected in the early days, the mar­i­juana in­dus­try in Illi­nois isn’t the same as Michi­gan’s. More than 30 stores have been

ap­proved to start sell­ing recre­ational weed the first day, com­pared with four in Michi­gan.

With dif­fer­ent laws, the shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence also will vary.

For months, Illi­nois dis­pen­saries have been gear­ing up for their own launch into le­gal weed sales.

They are brac­ing for prod­uct short­ages, and have hired more em­ploy­ees to help move cus­tomers through the line. Dis­pen­saries say even peo­ple who have smoked for years won’t know what to ex­pect when buy­ing weed legally in a store, given many have never been to a dis­pen­sary and in­stead bought from deal­ers.

Some Ann Ar­bor dis­pen­saries have run out of mer­chan­dise, par­tic­u­larly mar­i­juana-in­fused ed­i­bles, and have im­posed buy­ing lim­its to en­sure ev­ery cus­tomer can get some­thing. It’s a daily jug­gling act for store op­er­a­tors, as they fig­ure out in­ven­tory is­sues while ed­u­cat­ing cus­tomers on the wide ar­ray of mar­i­juana prod­ucts.

“I’ve smoked so many times be­fore,” said Jacob Lett, 25, as he and his girl­friend walked into the re­tail area at Ex­clu­sive in Ann Ar­bor one day last week. “All through­out col­lege, you never think it’ll be le­gal.”

Still, the Cleve­land-area res­i­dents were over­whelmed. A long counter was stocked with jars of fat mar­i­juana buds and con­tain­ers of con­cen­trates. Bags of mar­i­juana-in­fused gum­mies hung on the wall next to col­or­fully pack­aged vape car­tridges.

Cus­tomers wanted to know what would re­lax them with­out break­ing the bank, or how many ed­i­bles they should eat at a time. They asked for pric­ing and strain names, and had to de­cide be­tween smok­ing pre-rolled joints or loose dried mar­i­juana flow­ers.

If some­one bought flower, they stepped down to the end of the counter while work­ers weighed their weed and packed it up, much like wait­ing for an or­der at a deli.

“(It was) over­whelm­ing, but beau­ti­ful,” Lett said, bag of mar­i­juana prod­ucts in hand, af­ter emerg­ing from the store. “This is the 18year-old me’s great­est fan­tasy.”

Illi­nois mar­i­juana stores will look and op­er­ate dif­fer­ently than the shops in Michi­gan. State law dic­tates that cannabis can’t be on dis­play in Illi­nois. But like in Michi­gan, some Chicagoare­a dis­pen­sary op­er­a­tors are think­ing ahead, plan­ning warm­ing tents while oth­ers will have food trucks.

Ex­clu­sive Pro­vi­sion­ing has gone be­yond hot choco­late and heaters to as­suage pa­tient cus­tomers, CEO Omar Hish­meh said. When the dis­pen­sary’s first recre­ational cus­tomer got in line at 9 p.m. the night be­fore sales started, Hish­meh sent him a pizza.

The store gives what it calls a Willy Wonka ticket to any­one still in line at clos­ing time. Cus­tomers with the ticket can skip the line when they re­turn. Pa­tients shop­ping for med­i­cal mar­i­juana also skip the line and have re­served park­ing. Cus­tomers who or­der off an app don’t have to wait.

Ex­clu­sive Pro­vi­sion­ing hasn’t had any prod­uct short­ages, Hish­meh said. But 5 miles away in down­town Ann Ar­bor, a dis­pen­sary called Ar­bors Well­ness has been lim­it­ing what cus­tomers can buy.

“The big­gest down­fall is that we don’t have enough prod­uct to sup­ply ev­ery­one with ev­ery­thing they could want,” said Ar­bors Well­ness man­ager Al Moroz.

The buy­ing lim­its, which change daily, are writ­ten on chalk­boards around the shop, so cus­tomers can make de­ci­sions be­fore they get to the reg­is­ter. The store was out of ed­i­bles on a re­cent Satur­day morn­ing, but cus­tomers could get a cer­tain amount of flower, joints and other prod­ucts.

“The idea is not to sell out of flower or cannabis,” Moroz said. “We want to make sure if peo­ple are com­ing out this way to see us, they’re able to pick some­thing up.”

Tammy Pulie, 43, spent an hour out­side the store in the 40-degree chill, ears cov­ered with a knit­ted hat. She had hoped it would be a quick trip and was still wear­ing her pink Betty Boop pajama bot­toms. It was her se­cond visit to the dis­pen­sary, and both times it was out of what she re­ally wanted: ed­i­bles.

Pulie was dis­ap­pointed by the low buy­ing lim­its, but the Jackson, Michi­gan, res­i­dent said legally buy­ing weed, any weed, is still a treat.

“Hey, I got some­thing at least,” she said, walk­ing out of the shop with the mar­i­juana flower she bought. “I could have got noth­ing at all.”

Green­stone Pro­vi­sions, a mar­i­juana store also in down­town Ann Ar­bor, had long lines for the first week of sales. Then it had no prod­ucts for recre­ational cus­tomers for six days in a row.

A slow day dwarfs the busiest of days when the dis­pen­sary sold only med­i­cal mar­i­juana, said coowner Bartek Kupczyk..

How­ever, the recre­ational sales have meant that “med­i­cal pa­tients avoid us like the plague,” he said.

Ann Ar­bor is a vastly dif­fer­ent back­drop for recre­ational mar­i­juana sales than Chicago. The col­lege town, with about 122,000 res­i­dents, has been le­nient with cannabis for decades.

The City Coun­cil re­duced the fine for use, pos­ses­sion and sale of mar­i­juana to a mere $5 in the early 1970s. Though the fine has gone up in­cre­men­tally in the years pro­ceed­ing statewide le­gal­iza­tion, the at­ti­tude that the pun­ish­ment should be on par with a park­ing vi­o­la­tion didn’t change.

Never is that more ev­i­dent than each April, when peo­ple gather on the main quad on the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s Ann Ar­bor cam­pus to smoke and cel­e­brate weed at a fes­ti­val called Hash Bash. Po­lice of­fi­cers en­sure safety at the 50-yearold an­nual gath­er­ing — just like they were out­side some dis­pen­saries Dec. 1 — but ar­rests are rare.

That at­ti­tude isn’t per­va­sive. Roughly 80% of the state’s other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties said no to sales. About 40 miles from Ann Ar­bor, Detroit was among the cities to opt out of sales, at least for now.

The city’s pro­gres­sive at­ti­tude to­ward cannabis is well known on the univer­sity’s Ann Ar­bor cam­pus. Even the stu­dents who don’t par­take say they can’t miss the skunky aroma waft­ing around dur­ing Hash Bash.

Mar­i­juana is still fed­er­ally il­le­gal and many col­leges and univer­si­ties, which re­ceive fed­eral fund­ing, ban the sub­stance.

Carl Han­peter, a 20-yearold eco­nomics ma­jor who was study­ing in one of the univer­sity’s li­braries, said up­com­ing in­tern­ships or jobs that re­quire drug tests tend to keep stu­dents away from mar­i­juana.

The dis­pen­saries aren’t much of a draw be­cause stu­dents un­der 21 can’t get in, he said.

Plus, he said, buy­ing le­gal mar­i­juana re­quires ex­pend­able in­come a lot of stu­dents don’t have.


Above: Ware­house worker Rami Karad­sheh of­fers hot co­coa to cus­tomers wait­ing in line at Ex­clu­sive Brands on Dec. 13 in Ann Ar­bor, Mich. Mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries in Michi­gan be­gan sell­ing recre­ational cannabis on Dec. 1. Top left: Sales work­ers tend to cus­tomers from be­hind a counter at Ex­clu­sive Brands. Top right: A worker at Ex­clu­sive Brands mea­sures mar­i­juana into a con­tainer.

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