City officials are working on plans in case of a large turnout when recreational marijuana sales become legal Jan. 1.

City officials are gearing up for long lines when the City’s recreational marijuana dispensary opens for business Jan. 1, particularly if Chicago officials push back the date when that City begins sales.

Officials were asked about the possibility of long lines at the dispensary, located in storefront space in the City’s Maple Self Park Garage at 1804 Maple Ave., during an information meeting on Dec. 17 at the Morton Civic Center.

Under the state Cannabis Act, owners of medical dispensaries such as the one in Evanston, were allowed to add on a recreational use dispensary Jan. 1, giving them a head start over others who will have to go through the special use zoning process.

A Chicago City Council Committee recently voted to consider delaying pot sales in that City as far back as July 1, with black aldermen there lobbying for greater diversity in dispensary ownership.

At the Dec. 17 public education meeting attended only a handful of residents at Evanston’s Civic Center, a resident of a residential building located close to the dispensary asked City and police representatives about the prospect of long lines here when the dispensary opens.

Johanna Leonard, the City’s Community Development Director, said City officials have been talking to the company, MedMen-Evanston, which runs the dispensary, as well as their partners in the police department “about how we will handle the this on January 1.

“The people who are running this have opened dispensaries in other places,” she noted. “This isn’t their first foray. They have been in places where the calendar has flipped and now you can legally buy cannabis so this is not a new venture for them.”

She said the ideas floated by officials include people going to one location and then shuttled back to the dispensary and a buzzer or pager system such as used in restaurants, letting recreation marijuana buyers know when it is time to pick up their product.

“I don’t think we would allow them to queue up with stanchions around the block, to do something like that,” she added. “So we will see, but we’re very much concerned that there would be a massive flow of people. I saw the map of where you can buy cannabis on January first and Evanston is a little bit of an island to itself and we are well aware of that.”

With marijuana sales essentially a cash-and-carry business, officials were also asked whether they were concerned about increased criminal activity around the new dispensary.

The people running the dispensary have been “operating for a while,” responded Detective Christopher Tortorello, “and they do have a system in place for how they handle the money in their transactions.

“It’s a big business…,” he said. “They are very regulated, very rule- oriented, [with a] well-protected client base.”

Currently, he pointed out, “if I stop a medical cannabis patient with their medical cannabis that they purchased legally from a dispensary it [the product] can be traced to the dispensary that sold it and who they sold it to, to the cultivation center that sold it, and who they sold it to,” he explained. “So they put in a lot of these regulations to keep out that [the criminal activity].”

At the beginning, at least, patrols will be increased around the dispensary because it is a cash business, said Officer Jaclyn Roden.

That will likely be the case “until we can kind of get a handle or gauge what is happening,” she said.

Detective Tortorello along with Detective Jason Kleinpaste and Officer Roden spent a good part of the meeting, reviewing what is permissible — and what is not — after the Cannabis Act takes effect Jan. 1.

Though possession and private use of cannabis is legal for residents over the age of 21, starting Jan. 1, 2020, there are a number of venues where and situations in which use of the product is not permissible and subject to  fines or City court appearances. 

The law prohibits cannabis use in public places, schools, child care facilities and other locations but does not substantially alter the 2013 medical cannabis pilot program, Detective Tortorello said in his presentation.

Some other limitations highlighted in his presentation, include

“Smoking cannabis in any place where smoking is prohibited under the Smoke Free Illinois Act, such as restaurants;  

Operating or navigating or being in actual physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft or motorboat while using or under the influence; 

Facilitating the use of cannabis by any person who is not allowed to use marijuana; 

Transferring cannabis to any person contrary to the Recreational or Compassionate Care Act;

Use of cannabis by a person who has a school bus permit or a CDL, while on duty;

Use of cannabis by a law enforcement corrections officer or firefighter while on duty.”

People under the age of 21 found in possession will be directed to appear before the City’s Division if Administrative Adjudication.

“A person under 21 with cannabis in his or her possession is guilty of a civil law violation,” he pointed out to his audience. “”That’s basically how we work already. If you are in possession you are not going to be arrested, you’re going to be issued a citation. If a person is in a motor vehicle at the time of the offense, if they’re under 21, the Secretary of State may suspend or revoke their driving privileges,” he said. 

Residents can find more information on the new law on the City’s Adult Use Cannabis FAQ page at

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.