Long lines, high demand cause Illinois adult-use marijuana stores to ration flower, require customer appointments

Just Released! Get realistic market forecasts, state-by-state insights and benchmarks with the new 2024 MJBiz Factbook member program, now with quarterly updates. Make informed decisions.

A few weeks into recreational cannabis sales in Illinois, supply of flower remains tight, which is forcing many marijuana retailers to limit the amount sold to any one customer.

That’s to ensure retailers can serve as many people as possible, and some shops even require adult-use cannabis customers to schedule appointments.

Illinois cannabis retailers are required to designate all inventory as either for medical marijuana or recreational customers upon receiving it – and they also must have at least a 30-day supply on hand at all times for MMJ patients.

Some of the tactics marijuana retailers in the state are taking to address this issue include:

  • Designating Mondays for medical patients only.
  • Implementing a reservation system for recreational customers.
  • Curbing the amount of flower customers can purchase.

Medical patients first

Dispensary 33 in Chicago has limited supplies and reduced hours for recreational users. The company’s website encourages customers to check out its Twitter and Instagram feeds for daily updates.

“We always have to make sure our patients have the inventory and product they need,” said Abigail Watkins, Dispensary 33’s marketing director.

“We haven’t run out of any other products. We still have a whole assortment of edibles and topicals.”

Retailers have found balancing inventory between medical and recreational a big challenge.

A dispensary in Collinsville, Illinois, has reserved Mondays for MMJ patients only, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Scheduling a spot

Dispensary 33 established a text message system that allowed recreational customers to check in when the store was ready to see them.

However, that system caused people to arrive earlier and earlier so they could get a place close to the front of the line. Subsequently, Dispensary 33 implemented an online reservation system to mitigate lengthy waits.

Customers can log on and reserve a spot from noon to 4 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and arrive anytime in the window they’ve scheduled.

“We did that to accommodate different schedules and people who can’t stand for a long time,” Watkins said.

The online reservation system also enables Dispensary 33 to evaluate inventory and the product delivery schedule to determine how many recreational customers it can serve each day before cutting off the number of people who check in.

“One day, people are just going to be able to walk in. That’s ultimately the end goal,” Watkins stressed.

“But, right now, I don’t think any dispensary in Illinois is able to do that. Some have waiting rooms. One dispensary also owns a bar, so that’s their waiting space, but then you’re sitting in their waiting space and you can’t leave.”

While flower is flying off the shelves at most Illinois dispensaries, many people are buying edibles and vape products, said Ben Kovler, CEO of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (GTI).

Green Thumb, which operates retail stores under both the GTI and Rise brands, limited the amount of flower customers could buy so enough is available for everyone – and the shop was still able to accommodate customers who wanted to buy it on the second and third days of adult-use sales, Kovler noted.

“There’s also been a surprising amount of interest in topicals,” Kovler said. “What we’re seeing is a lot of people who are not in the medical program coming for various kinds of wellness (products).

“People are coming to improve their well-being, and it’s not just about getting high.”

One of the biggest challenges GTI faced on opening day was a shortage of badged employees who are approved by the state to work in the cannabis industry.

The company has 82 employees awaiting badges with no time frame on when they’ll be approved, Kovler said.

“It should take a week or two,” he said. “It’s taking four to six weeks plus. It’s one of the biggest hiccups we’ve had.”

The company reported no issues with neighbors or parking. A business park near GTI’s Rise store in Mundelein, Illinois, even took advantage of the number of adult-use marijuana customers looking for parking places and sold VIP spots to customers.

The store had 12 parking spaces when it opened and has since added 19. It’s planning to build a new parking lot with up to an additional 100 spaces.

Looking back, Kovler said GTI would have stocked up with additional food and coffee to serve the 1,000-plus people who came through its doors on Jan. 1, which was the first day Illinois allowed recreational marijuana sales.

Finding a balance

On opening day, Mission Dispensary on Chicago’s south side debated increasing the number of point of sales (POS) systems and cashiers available but determined that if it did so, it would run out of product, said Kris Krane, president of Phoenix-based 4Front Ventures, which operates Mission.

Instead, the store put limits on how much customers could purchase, though that number has been revised mainly downward since then. The shop started with a $300 total purchase limit, then dropped it to $200, before putting a limit on the products themselves.

“Every product class we have has a limit,” Krane said. “We reassess it based on inventory, and the limits change daily.

“We’ve had days where we’ve run out of edibles products, but we still had capsules. One afternoon, we only had capsules, but the next day we had edibles back in stock.”

Also on opening day, Mission Dispensary toyed with how the line of customers moved through the facility. At one point, it had staff in the waiting room taking customers’ orders and entering them into a kiosk.

That process ended up taking longer, Krane said, because the products are not removed from inventory until they’re scanned, so the goods often were sold out before the customer reached the checkout station.

“Now we have someone in the back of the house where, as soon as it’s picked out of inventory, the product is scanned immediately,” Krane said.

“It’s significantly shortened the time from when the order is placed to check out.”

Margaret Jackson can be reached at margaretj@mjbizdaily.com