In Michigan, they’re running out of pot
WILL WE SUFFER THE SAME FATE COME JAN. 1?
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.