This week Laura and Sara are joined by Abigail Watkins and Paul Lee of Dispensary 33. Dispensary 33 made history as the first location in the city of Chicago where one could purchase cannabis legally with a medical cannabis card. They display all marijuana goods to its customers, allowing patients to personally inspect their meds. With a large menu of flowers, extracts, edibles and topicals, this dispensary has consistently gone above and beyond to help the state’s medical marijuana patients safely and affordably access their medicine. Tomorrow, on January 1, the recreational sale of cannabis becomes legal in Illinois and Dispensary 33 is one of only three Chicago shops to get a recreational sales permit. Be sure to mark your calendars to queue up to get your weed at 9AM at 5001 N Clark.
Listen to Episode 92 with Abigail Watkins and Paul Lee!
- We’re excited to talk with Abigail and Paul, and we’ll begin with learning about their background, what brought them to Dispensary 33, and their roles there. Paul started with Dispensary 33 (D33 for short) four years ago, and was living in Los Angeles at the time. His friend Richard Park (a D33 consultant) introduced him to the company and asked him to come to Chicago to help work on the application and license for D33, which led to becoming the first dispensary in the Chicago to open. Paul is the General and Operations Manager of Dispensary 33 in Andersonville.
- Prior to the dispensary, Abigail worked at a law firm that worked a lot with regulated industries, Dispensary 33 being one of them. That’s how she became connected, and eventually moved to D33. She had no idea that working in the cannabis industry was an option, and worked really hard to make it a reality with D33.
- Dispensary 33 has been operating as a medical marijuana dispensary since December 2015. Paul explains Andersonville was chosen as the dispensary’s location because it has a lot of its “original soul, and retained its Chicago feel.” He adds that the Chamber and Block Clubs, and Alderman were helpful in getting to know Andersonville and with selecting their location at 5001 N Clark.
- The facility is beautiful on the outside with a unique layout inside. D33 worked with VERO Design and Perimeter Architects. The interior design and marketing work is done by Bob Faust. The goal was to create a beautiful space, as well as present the product in a way that showcases its importance. This wasn’t easy, but every product is displayed as closely as possible to the actual item you receive, along with placards with descriptions to help make the right choice. The design is always changing, and is always a process pushed by continuing to expand the products they offer. “The singular goal was to create a beautifully displayed dispensary,” says Paul.
- You’ll notice that Dispensary 33’s window signage includes films on the windows, which are required because it is a medicinal facility and for privacy. These films will stay up after the January 1 date, the reason being that D33 holds 2 licences, medical and recreational. Patient confidentiality is important, thus the privacy film on the windows.
- As we enter the New Year, we asked Paul and Abigail what some of their concerns are, such as high demand and shortages of weed. Paul shares, “I think there’s going to be a spike in demand, because you have so many new customers coming in at once. It’s going to be difficult to service everybody at the same time, so there may be shortages on particular items. But, in Illinois, there is a really good chance at rebounding from any hit on the supply because the facilities that create them are so large, and they are very well organized. They are seeking to expand all the time. So I think you have this really good network of different cultivators that are able to expand product, make more product, and are planning to do so for next year, and are ready on a heightened level.”
- In terms of clients they serve, D33 has a potential patient base of thousands. Abigail adds that they have around 3,300 medical card holders registered currently. A lot! It’s hard to say how many will come out in 2020. The total counts state-wide is approximately 70,000.
- Abigail adds that there are over 40 qualifying conditions in Illinois to be eligible for receiving a certification from your doctor for medical marijuana. People come in to D33 for many reasons. Anxiety, chronic illness, medication side effect management are just a few examples. Paul adds that “Cannabis is a symptom-based medicine, in that sense, it’s not tied to any particular disease.” One of the new conditions on the list of qualifiers is chronic pain, which can come from so many different illnesses. Another example, is stress. It is a common reason that many people might use another form of self-treatment, but cannabis is one of the most healthy. “When society starts to look at cannabis differently, it can really start to change the way that it grows and uses that plant. I’m really excited for that change, most of all.”
- Sara notes that it’s interesting to look at cannabis as a cultural change – across our city, across our state. She asks the question, and acknowledges that this is the hardest question we have ever asked in the history of this podcast, “What would you say to folks who think cannabis is a slippery slope or gateway into drug use or addiction?”
Paul explains that he thinks addiction is complicated, and in his limited perspective, if someone slips into addiction it’s probably due to many different factors. Exposing someone to one substance is not enough to make someone fall into an addiction. Overall, perhaps we need to redefine what addiction means. When we look, in particular into opioids, one of the worst problems in the country in terms of people abusing and dying from it, and then cannabis on the other hand has the ability to help. Recently Paul opened a letter from someone in their Compassion Care Program, (a program of 1% back to people who need it), who explained that they were able to kick all opioids and pain prescription medicine in finding alternatives in cannabis. Using this as just an example, Paul thinks cannabis can help fight addictions. Abigail would also encourage people to just come to the D33 and check it out. They affectionately refer to their staff as “bud-tenders,” like bartenders in the sense that they’re hip and fun to talk to, but very professional and comprehensive in their ability to speak about cannabis. “It’s a space where people are opening up, talking about something they never felt like they could before. I encourage anyone to come in and talk to us.”
- Sara remarks that “D33 was very active in advocating for the legalization of marijuana in the state of Illinois, and Governor Pritzker was on-site of the dispensary when he announced his support of taking the path towards legalization in Illinois. It’s a big deal for our state that it was done, for the first time ever in the country, legislatively, and not by a vote.” She asks Paul and Abigail to speak to that process, what was learned by the team at D33, what change is in store for our state and city? Paul says, “It was a really big honor to host Gov. Pritzker when he made that announcement. A proud moment for us to stand behind that movement.” Operationally, from Paul’s perspective, they just tried to be the best dispensary that they could, through positive client experience, extensive knowledge of the plant that is up-to-date with current research, in a sense, being a guru. The program has done very well over the last four years. It was not always that popular, but over time the program has become very successful. “Overall, it’s super successful. From my perspective, that was the best way we could have done. A lot of outreach, to let people know that it is really helping people…because, you know, Chicago definitely had this criminality element for cannabis for a long, long time. So overcoming those stigmas was an important part to bring this to a feasible thing to the city and the state.”
- Laura points out that just because pot becomes legal, doesn’t mean that it’s unregulated. The industry is designed to grow gradually, and purchasers will need to be over 21. Abigail talks further about regulations, like quantity limits and public consumption. She explains, “Anyone 21+ can come in, show their ID, and consult with budtenders at D33.” From there, consumption is supposed to occur in private space, home, for example. Backyards are included in that, but front porches is still up for debate. Places like sidewalks and restaurants still fall under the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which includes all smoking (cigarettes, vaping, cannabis) in the public way. In vehicles, near schools, and within assisted living and public housing, and hotels is also excluded for cannabis consumption. You can transport it in your car, but is has to be out of reach. You knowingly can’t smoke around anyone who is under 21. Purchase limits will be different for patients, Illinois residents, and out of state visitors. Anyone 21+ will be able to purchase, but Illinois residents will be able to purchase 15 grams. Listen closely here – it’s a little complicated, like a 7th grade math problem about two trains moving in opposite directions…we recommend you just visit D33. The purchase limit is 15 grams for out of state visitors, 30 Illinois res, patients allotment is about 72 grams every two weeks. Everything is determined by lab result, not just weight. This can all be explained by folks at D33.
- Sara comments that a consumption licensing is the next step, which was a topic of discussion during a meeting with the city a couple of weeks ago. As a new industry, it will be exciting to see what happens. It’s also possible that dispensaries may integrate consumption lounges.
- In terms of product explanation, marijuana is typically smoked among recreational consumers, but it can also be used edibles like chocolates, cookies, gummies, and cannabis infused patches. Laura asks, “What might D33 recommend for the first time pot user?” Paul recommends smoking a joint for the first-time recreational user, because you’re guaranteed to use everything in the plant, burning everything such as terpenes and cannabinoids, and it is the most traditional and cleanest way to use cannabis. It’s tried and true, and it’s going to have an immediate effect. If you don’t like the smoke, you can vaporize which is easy. If you don’t want any inhalation, he would recommend edibles, with a relatively small dosage (5-10 mg) since it’s harder to determine with someone consuming for the first time.
- She also asks “Does marijuana go bad? How long can it last?” Abigail explains that it won’t go bad, but it will dry out, it might not taste as good, and its potency (THC) can degrade. She recommends that you store it in an airtight container with little exposure to light. Paul adds that the smell relates to its potency, similar to other herbs. The less smell, the less potency. In D33, everything is vacuum sealed.
- D33 has, for the past couple of years, organized a community festival called “Waldo Forever Festival,” which has been on or around April 20, or 4/20 – a pot-friendly holiday. The event has drawn 6,000 participants. Abigail explains the idea for Waldo Forever Fest came from an urban legend, but possibly true story of high schoolers who would smoke together at a wall after school, around 4:20PM, and called themselves “the waldos.” For D33, it’s the biggest sale day of the year. The first year it was a way to entertain patients as they waited in line outside, and anyone else who wanted to be part of the cannabis community. Last year they featured comedians, Big Freedia, music, and food trucks. Also featured were tents for cultivators with information. It’s a great way to celebrate the day and learn about the product. D33 worked with Cannabis Alliance and D312 to make it happen.
Tomorrow is January 1, here is what you need to know:
- What are Dispensary 33’s hours on January 1?
6AM-9PM (Expanded hours – they open early!)
- Where do people line up?
D33 isn’t planning on a line, but using a texting app service, just like how restaurants use paging service with a grace period so they can service people as fast as they can. D33 used a similar process on 4/20, which worked well. There will be coupons for local businesses, which will be great to use if you have a 30-minute virtual wait in line.
- What if I like to wait in line?
If you like lines, then you’re welcome to wait. D33 will have have heaters and supporting local businesses are participating in celebrating the day, like SoFo Tap and Meetinghouse Tavern. SoFo Tap will be open and playing cannabis-related movies (Dazed and Confused, Cheech and Chong) during the day, and featuring cannabis-themed trivia at night. Dark Matter has donated coffee.
- We’re sure we’ll have many Andersonville businesses come on #AlwaysAndersonville: The Podcast and say the will want to trade places with Dispensary 33. But for this show, who would Dispensary 33 trade places with for a day? Paul would trade places with Hopleaf, where he has been visiting for a long time, and loves their atmosphere, food and drink selection. Abigail loves Ridman’s Coffee at 4658 N Clark, but isn’t sure about her barista skills. She visits 4-5 times a week, and orders a cappuccino or chai latte with an espresso shot.