The Illinois legal cannabis market is still in its infancy, but since it's my home state I was eager to dive in and explore the landscape. I regularly take trips back, but this time I decided to see what it would be like to travel as a tourist...but not just any tourist, a cannabis tourist ;) Scroll on to discover what I found this time around!
Flying into Chicago is always nice if you're planning to use public transportation because both major airports have a Chicago Transit Authority train on site. When you fly into Midway you'll be able to take the Orange Line and if you're landing at O'Hare then the Blue Line awaits. I like to travel light, so the fact that you can easily just hop off your plane with your carry-on in tow and hop onto a train after a short walk is an ideal situation.
There are so many neighborhoods in Chicago and they all offer unique scenes. If you're into rowdy, raucous, party vibes, then Wrigleyville may be the place for you. If you wanna have a true tourist experience then maybe you'll stay near the Magnificent Mile. Whatever your vibe, Chicago is the kinda city that can accommodate you! The area that seemed to have the most dispensaries was Lakeview, although you can find them located sporadically throughout the city.
My first stop was Dispensary 33 located in the Andersonville neighborhood. This was the first medical dispensary to open in Chicago when Illinois legalized medical use back in 2015 and the time that they've had to fine tune their operations and customer experience definitely shows. The waiting area is closed off from where they keep the product, which seemed to be the standard for several of the places I know of in Chicago. Once you enter, you'll be checked in so be sure to bring your ID. Depending on how busy it is, you may have to wait a few minutes to be let onto the sales floor.
As soon as you walk in, you'll notice how white and clean the space looks. Everything is kept in glass and the color palette is white with soft shades of orange and pink popping up in the cashiers area. It felt like a very approachable space and I think it would put a newer consumer at ease to see how professional and bright everything looks. I know so many people associate cannabis with dark, shady drug deals, so having spaces like this to represent the reality of the industry are so important.
I'm not very well versed in the Chicago cannabis compliance regulations, but the checkout process felt like it had one too many steps. First you'll speak with the bud tender and choose what you want. They'll give you a number and you'll move into the cashier room and wait for one of them to call your order number. Once they call your number then you'll make your payment. Both locations are cash only, so be sure to plan accordingly, although they do have an ATM on site in case you forget.
Not only is Dispensary 33 easily accessible on public transportation, it also has a nice variety of brands. As someone who is big on brand loyalty, I tend to trust what I know, so it was nice to see that they had a few brands that I know and trust the quality of. They also carry a number of local options that ended up being pretty nice. Since this location is close to where I stay when I visit Chicago, I already know it's gonna be my go-to dispensary!
Oh Sunnyside, I'm still not sure how I feel about this place because my judgement was seriously clouded by the 45 minute wait! I thought it was a timing issue, but the line was long when I entered and long when I left so maybe visiting at night isn't the best option. Although, if you have a dispensary in Wrigleyville, I would think that you would be prepared for lots of traffic as it's one of the most visited neighborhoods in the city...but, it's a newer cannabis market so maybe they haven't worked out all the kinks yet.
I will say that the space is lovely! There is a check-in area when you first enter, but unlike most places, you can see inside the shop because the wall that separates the spaces is made of glass. It gives the whole shop an open and airy feel, which is a definite plus, especially for newer consumers who can feel uneasy when visiting a dispensary. The colorful artwork and friendly staff also helped to make the environment so welcoming.
One of the best things about Sunnyside was it's selection. They had so many items to choose from that you would have no trouble finding what you need. They also cater to the medical cannabis cardholders by carrying a number of medicinal products and having a separate line to wait in. I was happy to find out that the staff was knowledgable and able to talk terpene profiles and not just THC percentage. I did learn that in Illinois they have their cannabis taxes set up by THC percentage, which means that the higher concentrated items will be taxed heavier. So if you're into edibles, vapes or concentrates then you'll be paying more than if you were just purchasing flower.
In addition to the wide array of cannabis products, they also have a huge amount of accessories. Papers, pipes and everything in between can be found within this shop. The queue is made up of rows and rows of shelves that hold all sorts of treasures like an Edie Parker rolling kit, a Puffco Proxy, dabbing supplies and SO. MUCH. MORE. Maybe that's why they keep their lines long so you have to meander past all the impulse buys! Overall I really liked the variety of Sunnyside, so I'll probably give it another try on one of my next visits.
Next up was Chicago Cannabis Company, and it was such a cute lil spot! Located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood right near the intersection of Lincoln, Irving Park and Damen, it was easily the smallest dispensary I visited. When I walked in they checked my ID at the counter, and I expected to be let into a back room, but they don't have one, I was already on the sales floor. And while it was small, the vibes were big! They had such cute artwork and the overall design of the place felt uplifting and welcoming, a canna newbie would feel so at ease here.
I've never been to a branded dispensary, but that's what Chicago Cannabis Company seemed like. All of the products they carry are made using flower and concentrates from their grow, so it's not the place to shop if you want a specific brand. As someone who likes variety but can easily get overwhelmed by too many choices, it was nice to not have as many things to choose from. It was also nice to see that in addition to flower, they had several alternative consumption methods like tinctures and edibles. I'm a big fan of the cannabis drinks, but they're not as easy to find as flower, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that they carried a good range of flavors to pick from.
I ended up getting a single a pre-roll since we were heading to the airport soon, and it was pretty much what I expected, meh. However, I know that living in LA and having access to some of the best cannabis flower in the country has spoiled me...like, spoiled rotten! If that weren't the case, I'm sure I would have enjoyed the pre-roll more. I would totally go back to try out their drinks or edibles though, so I'll keep it in the back of my mind for future stays in the Windy City.
I don't know when I'll be back in the Chi but I do know that exploring the cannabis market in my old stomping grounds is a fun little journey I'm so glad I embarked on. I'm looking forward to seeing the evolution of the industry in Illinois, especially consumption lounges. They currently don't have any lounges within the city of Chicago, but if you include the entire Chicagoland area, there are lounges in Mundelein, IL and Wheeling, IL. Getting to those locations is difficult and time-consuming, just not ideal for anyone who lives in the city and doesn't want to drive high. But these things take time, even in Los Angeles we only have two legal lounges open currently and they're both in the same neighborhood. Cannabis rules and regulations can stifle growth and prevent innovation or change, which is so frustrating for consumers and business owners alike...but that's a post for a different day! Overall I was happy with all my purchases so those Illinois growers must be doing something right.
So that wraps up my first round of cannabis tourism in Chicago! Let me know in the comments what your experiences at these shops was like. And if you have a dispensary or lounge I should check out on my next visit, let me know.