My first day of kindergarten – I mean weed legalization

A DePaulia reporter’s firsthand account of trying purchase recreational weed on the first day of legalization in Illinois.


Xavier Ortega | The DePaulia

Sunnyside dispensary in Lakeview.

On Jan. 1, 2020, recreational cannabis became legal in the state of Illinois. This new law legalizes the possession of 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of THC-infused edibles for Illinois residents who are 21 and older. 

As one of those 21 and up people, I couldn’t wait to head to a dispensary and legally purchase cannabis. Like many, I had no idea what I was walking into, and no matter how much research I did, there was no way to know until I was standing in line. So, for those of you who have yet to stand in said lines, I will now share my experience of purchasing legal cannabis at Sunnyside Dispensary. 

6:30 a.m. – My alarm shocks me into consciousness bright and early. Time to get up and head to the dispensary! 

7:30 a.m. – Okay, I fell back asleep. Now it’s really time togo. 

7:45 a.m. – My Lyft driver has a lot of thoughts about all the chaos surrounding cannabis legalization. He doesn’t think the chaos will die down for at least a year. Oh boy. He wishes me luck as I get out of the car. 

8:05 a.m. – The dispensary doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m., so I join the line waiting outside. I decided to wait to brave the chaos until about two weeks after New Year’s, so I snagged the fifth spot in line. Everyone is bundled up and shivering as we wait for the dispensary to open. 

8:15 a.m.: The security guards have shown up. One, in particular, goes down the line, which has started to grow, thanking people for their patience. I hear him mention the limitations of sales, and ask him more about it. He tells me that patrons are only allowed to purchase one of each product (flower, cartridges, pre-rolls, edibles, etc). This is because of the shortages of products that Sunnyside and many other dispensaries around the city are experiencing. 

8:25 a.m. – I strike up a conversation with the folks around me. One man tells me that this is his second time legally buying cannabis. He showed up on January 1 at 4:00 a.m.. His early start paid off though, as he was the 135 person to buy cannabis that day. Another man tells me that he was also there on the first day, but he was 421 person in line. He jokes that the person who got number 420 didn’t deserve it and says that he had to wait in line for 10 hours to get in, but that it was worth it to be a part of such a historic day. 

8:55 a.m. – The security guards tell us that we are going to head over to Aurelio’s, a pizza place across the street, to wait until the store is ready. We are told to stay in a single file line as we cross the street. As we start to snake around, it strikes me just how juvenile this is. We are walking in a single file line, snaking around, but the only two differences between this and 

kindergarten is that we are buying a drug, and kindergarteners don’t know how to read. I ask the guy behind me if they have a rope we could all hold onto so we don’t get lost. He laughs. I wasn’t kidding. There’s a lot of walking around and someone could get lost. Once we arrived at Aurelio’s, we are given wishlists to fill out what we want to buy from the dispensary. I am in the first group, so I only sit in the restaurant for a couple of minutes. 

9:05 a.m. – Myself and 11 other people are led back to the dispensary. When we get there, we are instructed to take out our IDs. When we walk inside, we are stopped in a waiting room where our IDs are scanned for authenticity. I pass the test and am feeling great. I’m so close. 

9:10 a.m. – We are finally let into the store, and what I see is not what I was expecting. Instead of a chillaxing store with cool music and low lighting, I am met with bright orange and white decor, pop music and the brightest lighting I have ever seen. I mean, a doctor could perform surgery in this lighting. I think the best way to paint this picture is to say that I felt like I was in a government-run Apple store, but instead of selling phones, they sell cannabis. What a strange place. We are told to stand in line, and cashiers talk to us one at a time. Unfortunately, this takes a while, as there are only two cashiers working, even though there are five cash registers. 

9:20 a.m. – When it’s my turn at the cashier, I ask for the things I want, and ask a few product-related questions as well. I am impressed with how knowledgeable the cashier is, and tell him so. I also thank him for being here during such a hectic time. He smiles, and says that it’s all good, he’s stoned anyway. Okay, he doesn’t actually say that. What he really says is that he’s happy to be here helping people out, but that he’s hoping that there will be more employees joining the team in the next few months. According to him, there is an intense background screening required to work at a dispensary, and the state is dragging their feet in the process and slowing things down. I thank him again, and hand over my cash (this dispensary, and many others, are cash-only, but Sunnyside does have an ATM). 

9:31 a.m. – I have my bright orange bag and am on my way out the door. I wave to the suckers that are still in line as I walk away, and in doing so, I miss my bus and have to wait 13 minutes for another one. Okay karma, I see you. 

Dispensaries around the state made almost $19.7 million in the first 12 days of sales, according to the Chicago Tribune, and the first day was one of the biggest days of legal cannabis sales in history. Even with the shortages and long lines, it is clear that people are willing to wait to buy cannabis legally, and I am here to say that having been through it, it’s absolutely worth it. 

Next time, I’m going to bring a rope to hold on to, I really don’t want to get lost.