News

Lines form early for legal pot sales in Illinois

Shuttle buses bring customers to facility near Eastern Iowa

Josh, of Sterling, Ill., and Shawn, of Erie, Ill., laugh after they made purchases Wednesday morning at Nature's Treatme
Josh, of Sterling, Ill., and Shawn, of Erie, Ill., laugh after they made purchases Wednesday morning at Nature’s Treatment of Illinois in Milan, which is south of Davenport. News Year’s Day marked the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Illinois. (Meg McLaughlin/Dispatch-Argus)
/

MILAN, Ill. — A sunshine daydream came true for recreational cannabis users at 6 a.m. Wednesday when Nature’s Treatment opened.

As early as midnight, people began to gather near the facility, south of Davenport, waiting in vehicles or in a heated tent, complete with snacks, next to the building.

Milan police Officer Chris Johnson, who had been at the site since midnight, said there were 10 to 15 people on hand when he arrived. Crowds were lighter than he expected.

“They’ve been very cooperative,” he said. “Our biggest problem has just been parking.”

Shuttles brought people to and from the site.

In the warming tent, people wiled away the hours. Some played cards. One couple hugged and kissed. Still others became friends with people they never had met until they sat at the same table to wait.

All the while, music and videos played at the front of the tent, where shirts were for sale.

Tickets were handed out so people could move in small groups from the tent to the dispensary.

Early on, the man with Ticket No. 1 said he would not be purchasing any marijuana. His reason for being there was job-related, but he wanted to be part of the celebration of recreational marijuana sales being legal in Illinois.

“I’m here to see what’s going on,’’ he said. “And I’ll DJ for a while. I wanted the first ticket.’’

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Ten minutes later, 72-year-old Bob Colby arrived on bicycle after a 5-mile ride. The Rock Island man wore a “When pigs fly’’ riding shirt.

“The shirt is in honor of the day,’’ he said. “’When pigs fly’ is when I thought this day would come. Hey, I thought I’d get my first ride of the year under my belt and see what I can buy. This is good for Illinois, because it’s broke as a joke, but there are too many laws. It’s almost not legal-legal. Too many things you cannot do.’’

On New Year’s Day, Illinois became the 11th state to broadly legalize recreational marijuana. For Illinois residents, the limit that can be ought at one time is 30 grams. For out-of-state residents like Iowans, it is 15 grams. Illinois law forbids it from being smoked outdoors or in cars — but allows it in private residences and hotels that permit it, but not in the presence of minors. Although medical marijuana is legal in Iowa for qualified patients, recreational marijuana remains illegal and it’s against the law to transport it into the state.

Many of those chasing the first wave of a recreational buy Wednesday took their tickets and scattered for the time being. Some returned to cars to sleep, others went home for a few winks.

Corey Wheat, of Bettendorf, brought his own lawn chair and set up for a six-hour wait.

“I’m going to get me some medicine,’’ he said. “It’s worth the wait. It’s been such a long time coming. This is a good thing.’’

Timothy Daxon, 24, of Moline, agreed.

“I’m happy that the stigma (of smoking weed) will be removed,” he said. “I’m happy I don’t need to go behind closed doors.”

Daxon, who works at Chief’s Bar and Grill, Silvis, had played poker until 4:30 a.m. and then gone to the tent to wait his turn. He chatted amiably with other people at the table where he sat.

“The marijuana community is inclusive,” he said.

Helping manage the crowd and making announcements was Dennis Smutzer, of Rock Island, dressed in a green cannabis-leaf-print suit, complete with tie.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m very proud we’re finally getting it legalized,” he said. “It’s really amazing. I hope everybody takes advantage of all the things it has to offer.”

“It’s the end of prohibition,” said longtime marijuana advocate Chris Rice, of Rock Island. “It’s a giant leap forward in personal freedom.”

“It’s amazing,” said Mike Stern Sr., who remembers drawing the concept of a marijuana sales facility with his son, Matt, on a napkin.

Matt Stern is owner and chief executive officer of Nature’s Treatment of Illinois, and president of Stern Beverage next door.

Mike Stern Sr. is proud of the dispensary’s safety measures.

“Our walls here are bulletproof, with bulletproof windows,” he said.

“We have 96 cameras in here, all hooked up to the state,” he said. “So the state can go into any one of these cameras any time, 24/7, and see what’s going on in the building.”

Customers, who were called in groups of numbers, walked from the tent to a large waiting area in Nature’s Treatment.

Dispensary agent Chelsea Salmon checked identifications and discussed products, including edibles, concentrate, cartridges and disposable vape pens.

On the recreational side of the building, an ATM sits in a room with five transaction windows — it looks a lot like the inside of a bank. A security guard, along with a staff member, were on hand Wednesday to answer questions and escort clients.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

On the medical marijuana side, which has three transaction windows, are comfortable chairs and tables.

A flow of customers continued past dawn.

Mike Stern Sr. said new legislation will bring in more jobs, more tax revenue and will help keep sales local.

The facility employs 16 people in Milan. Another facility will open Feb. 1 at a former Aldi store in Galesburg, Ill., he said.

“Basically, the horses are out of the barn and this is going national,” Stern said.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.