From the outside, feet visible inside the dispensary Photo by Heidi Randhava

Lines stretched for blocks of people waiting to get into Evanston’s recreational marijuana dispensary on Jan. 1, the first day sales were allowed in Illinois.

“It’s like the repeal of the Volstead Act,” said Martin Lang, an Evanston resident. “I’m shocked that Evanston even allowed this. I mean, this is where the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union started, Frances Willard … and here we are in line waiting to buy legal reefer.”

An estimated 250 people were already waiting when employees for MedMen-Evanston, the operator, at 10 a.m. opened the doors of the dispensary, located in ground floor space at the City’s Maple Self Park Garage at 1804 Maple Ave., just south of the Hilton Garden Inn.

MedMen officials arranged for the lines to begin at University Place and Maple Avenue, then loop around into the parking garage, leading into the dispensary from its backend.

“I pulled around the corner to work, and I saw the line of people and I thought there was fire at the hotel – that an alarm went off or something,” said Tim Fitzgerald, the chief engineer at the hotel, encountering the crowds.

People were orderly and in good cheer on the bright winter day, even those deep in the line with a more-than-one-hour wait.

One of those, Eddie Monzoni, came from the Pilsen area.

“This is a shorter line than what I passed up earlier,” she said. “So we came here, because we figured it would be a little less.”

Ms. Monzoni, who works in media, said she has been to lots of dispensaries in other states, including Colorado and California. “I’m just curious to see what they have,” she said about the Evanston dispensary.

A college-age couple stood last in line, backed to the stop sign on University Place.

They came from Rogers Park.

“I think it’s great,” said Hannah, preferring not to give her whole name. “We were excited to come to the Evanston location, because of reparations,” she said, referring to the City’s recent decision to devote tax revenues from the recreational marijuana sales to a reparations fund.

“I just think it’s great what they’re doing with tax dollars,” she said, “and I think it’s a really good first step in trying to address issues a lot of people don’t want to address.”

Once people in line entered the dispensary, “we take their orders with our menus [on] our iPads. We give them a customer number,” said a MedMen representative assigned outside to answer the questions of people waiting.

Their chief question: “How long?”

The dispensary managed the crowd flow to limit the number of people to between 60 and 65 at one time, he said.

Are there any limits on the amount that can be purchased, he was asked.

“Just what the State allows: 30 grams [for Illinois residents] in state, 15 grams [for non-residents].”

“Is there a chance you’ll run out of product?”

“Yeah, everybody keeps asking. I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve been trying to bulk up as much as we can.”

Another person said he learned of the Evanston dispensary online.

“I live in Wicker Park. I thought there would be a lot of people around in the Chicago area. I thought it would be [smart] to come here.

“I guess other people had similar smart ideas,” he said, noting the length of the line.

In line he made a new friendship with Mr. Lang, waiting in line just after him, even going on a coffee run to Starbucks to fortify them during the wait.

Mr. Cheok already knew what he was going to order. “Nothing too huge,” he said. “It’s mainly that I was part of the first group that’s to go in.”

At the End of the Day

Seven hours after Evanston’s recreational marijuana dispensary opened its doors on Jan. 1, lines remained long, stretching through the City’s Maple Self Park Garage to the back-end of the dispensary, located in ground floor space of the garage.

Just before 5 p.m., an employee for Med-Men-Evanston told the last person in line at the time that anyone who lined up behind him would not be guaranteed entry into the dispensary before the doors closed at 8 p.m.

Daunting lines did not dampen the spirits of those who stood in line for hours, and at times applauded when small groups of customers exited the dispensary with red bags containing their purchases.

Some who waited patiently in temperatures in the 30s offered their thoughts about choosing Evanston to make their first legal purchase of recreational marijuana in Illinois.

“We’ve been in line since 2:45. I’m a Chicago resident, but I do love Evanston. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, Northwestern too,” one customer told the RoundTable at 5:05 p.m. He waited in line with a friend from Skokie.

“I always go to the movie theater right around the corner. And they’ve got Buffalo Joe’s, my favorite wing spot,” said the customer from Skokie.

Like many people in line, they chatted with the person behind them, a woman from Evanston.

“I don’t smoke. I just want to get some gummies,” said the Evanston resident, referring to cannabis-laced edibles sold at the dispensary.

All three customers were in agreement that product safety and the ability to make legal purchases are important considerations for those who are willing to pay more at the dispensary than they would expect to pay for cannabis products that are sold on the street.

“If you want to go legitimate, it’s something that’s more healthy, tested to make sure that there’s no pesticides, I’d probably go with the dispensary,” said the Chicago resident.

“You can get different types of things here that you cannot get from the streets,” said the Skokie resident.

A MedMen-Evanston employee stationed outside with the line of customers answered questions about payment options (cash or debit cards only), wait times, and product availability. He told the RoundTable the dispensary sells edibles, cannabis flower, concentrates, vapes, topicals and capsules to adult-use customers over the age of 21, and those who qualify for the medical marijuana program in Illinois.

Customers who presented their medical cards on Jan. 1 were given immediate access to the dispensary and did not have to wait in the long lines. The dispensary will be open for adult-use customers, also known as recreational users, only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 2, to protect product availability for medical patients.

All customers are required to present a State ID. However, the dispensary does not keep a record of its customers.

“In Illinois, we don’t even take your name. Everyone is just a number who walks in. When their product is ready, we just say, ‘person number 210,’” the Med-Men-Evanston employee told the RoundTable. Customers who wished to do so could provide an email address and receive a 10% discount on Jan. 1.

Bob Seidenberg

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.