i wrote this early january and shared it to r/ILtrees.
Illinois became the 11th state in the union to legalize recreational marijuana. I waited in line for 6.5 hours in freezing temperatures to be among the first 300 people to legally procure the drug. When I’ve shared with people that I waited in line for 6.5 hours, the response has typically been “at least you can say you did it.” Certainly, this is true, but I’d rather be able to say I didn’t do it; that I recognized the length of the line and the time each customer would take and that I backed away. Alas, I didn’t do that. “It can’t be more than a 2 hour wait,” my friend and I posited to each other as we walked towards our place in line. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Here is our experience.
The week after Christmas, we made our decision to go to the dispensary at 5 AM on New Year’s Day. We knew it was going to be insane, but we also figured by arriving an hour early we’d beat a lot of people who’d been a little too reckless on New Year’s Eve. Besides, Sunnyside dispensary, the only recreational dispensary in the Rockford area (about 350,000 people) had advertised to the effect of they knew they were going to be busy, and they’d prepared as such. They’d have heated tents for those waiting outside. Had we known what we were getting into, we’d have never gone.
LET THE MADNESS BEGIN
We arrived at Sunnyside as planned, at 5 AM. It was dark, but the surrounding shops illuminated a line that stretched from behind the building, into a tent, up the side of the building and had just started to turn around the front of the building. Parking was non-existent. Security had blocked off the entrance to the parking lot from the road, and all other local lots were full. I found a line of stalls with a sign that read “Parking for patients only, 7 AM – 5 PM.” I parked there assuming two things. First, there was no way we’d be in line for much longer than 7 AM, if that long at all. Second, it’s New Year’s Day. Most places that would be seeing patients would be closed, so it didn’t seem to matter if I parked there. After I parked in the stall, the flood gates opened. The entire row was filled in less than 5 minutes.
We walked from the car to the line, where we observed about 100 or so people in front of us. We were in front of the building, but within 30 minutes getting in line, there were at least 400 people behind us. The line wrapped to the front of the building, where we were standing, up the sidewalk, around the parking lot, across the street, and well in front of the shops. More than anything, we thought we were in a great position considering those behind us. The line in front of us went into a tent and once patrons came out of the tent, it was their turn to enter the building. With only about 90-100 people standing between us at the tent, we decided to stay in line. This couldn’t possibly take too long.
5 AM HOUR
Since the shop didn’t open until 6, we knew the line wouldn’t move for at least an hour. Someone walked past us taking a head count. Counting in order in the 40’s, 43 was the number she said as she pointed at me. “40’s?!?” someone shouted to her. “That’s 240!!” she shouted back. I was 243rd in line. A news crew from WIFR was walking up and down the line, looking for willing interviewees. A group behind us was willing and part of their interview can be seen here. They gave a spirited interview and the whole thing felt more like a coronation than business transaction. After the interview, we all talked for quite a while. One of the gentleman had a thick Boston accent, and he was affectionately called “Bahston” for the next seven hours. He was three or four groups ahead of us and he became our barometer for how slow or fast the line moved. “Bahston Hahbah” would be the triumphant call from the line behind us every time he hit a milestone that was within our grasp. The demographic of the people waiting in line were overwhelmingly white. I’d say 90%, if not more, were white people. Ages ranged from old to young, but the overwhelming majority was middle aged white dudes (me).
6 AM HOUR
At 6 AM, when the dispensary opened, the original move in the line was a large one. We went from behind the building to the side of the building, giving everyone a false sense of hope that the line would be in this expedited fashion throughout the day. But when the line hadn’t moved again by 6:25, everyone was concerned with what the holdup was. Rumors started to form and pass in line. We’d heard they only allow 6 in at a time. I started doing quick math in my head. If they’re allowing six in at a time and each transaction takes 2 minutes (this is very generous, transactions do and should take much longer, especially since it’s cash only) and groups of 6 go in, that’s 40 groups ahead of us at 3 minutes apiece, that should take us about 2 hours to get in. The sun started to rise to our east and we all bemoaned how cold it was, 17 degrees. The sun will warm us up when it rises. By the time the 7 o’clock hour came, we hadn’t moved more than 5 slabs of sidewalk concrete. After a full two hours of waiting, we were only about 10% closer to the building.
7 AM HOUR
Everyone in line, me included, was very concerned about how slow the line was moving. We finally started to see people walking out of the dispensary, something that the 6 AM hour lacked. “What time did you get here?” We’d shout to the people walking out. “2 AM!” was the overwhelming reply. These people waited around five hours to buy legal pot. “If we get even close to five hours, I’m leaving”, I tell my friend. Empty promises. Representatives from the dispensary walked around passing out hand-warmers to everyone waiting in line. These were integral in my survival. It was cold but I’d prepared properly, unlike my friend, who didn’t even have gloves (I had an extra pair in my car). Despite two pairs of socks, one of them thick, my toes were freezing. After two hours of standing on your feet, not moving, in the 17-degree cold, the cold turns to pain. They came around three separate times offering hand-warmers, and I took a pair all three times. Two of them in my shoes, one of them in my gloves.
8 AM HOUR
The word “unbelievable” is so woven into our vernacular that using it to describe how slow the line moved would undersell how slow the line was moving. But by the most literal sense of the word, it was unbelievable how slow the line moved. By the time the 8:30 came, not only were we not even in the tent yet, we still didn’t have a great view of what was even inside the tent. It was heated, we were sure, citing Sunnyside’s earlier descriptions that they’d provide “tents” (plural) with heat. Word started to spread in the line that they were running out of product. We started to poll people coming out of the dispensary. “Did they have a lot left?” was our plea to the exiting customers. “Some, but they’re out of a lot too”, was the response more often than not. One customer left in an extremely bad mood saying he waited since 3 AM and didn’t buy a single thing because they were “out of everything”. This worried me and everyone else in line. Most around me pleaded with anyone who walked by in Sunnyside apparel. “Please tell us what you have left” was the request, but it was usually ignored. Someone wearing a yellow vest with the words “event medic” was walking past us when the gentleman behind us yelled to him “WHAT ARE THE EARLY SIGNS OF HYPOTHERMIA!?!?!” The medic said nothing, but smiled as he walked past, clearly in good spirits that he didn’t have to wait in the cold with us. “NOTHING? FUCK YOU!” was the response his smile induced.
9 AM HOUR
We inched towards the tent, ever so slowly, to the point I finally crept out of line to see what was inside the tent. There were easily another 100 people inside. It was a queued line, back and forth six times, and the entire length of the tent. The tent wasn’t heated, even though there was a heater inside. The flap of the tent on both sides was wide open, so any heat that the heater was putting out was quickly dissipating in the coldness. It seemed from the outside that the only thing the tent was good for was blocking the wind, but since there was very little wind, it simply was a shelter from the sun. We all thought that our proximity to the tent meant that our promised land of buying legal marijuana was drawing nigh. Finding out that we hadn’t even made it halfway yet was devastating to our psyche. At this point we were parallel to the tent. We had to re-evaluate our decision. “Should we stay in line?” was the question posed. At this point, I’d invested 4 hours. I wasn’t leaving. It was the sunk cost effect in full swing, and as illogical as it was, I was committed. We finally entered the tent around 9:20 AM. By the time 9:30 had rolled around and we hadn’t yet completed one of the six queues inside the tent, my friend had had enough. “I’m out”, he told me and I handed him my car keys. He’d be back to pick me up when I was done, but he couldn’t wait anymore. I didn’t blame him. In fact, I was a little jealous of his decision. As a penchant for his bailing I made him bring me the vape pen from my car. If I was going to wait in line by myself, I was at least going to be stoned.
10 AM HOUR
By 10 o’clock I had made it through the first two of the six queues. Waiting in the tent was actually much worse than waiting outside. It was much more crowded and now that I was a single person waiting in line, my personal space dwindled. I was anxious about the situation, freezing cold, and in a crowded tent with little space. The situation was bleak. I noted to the group in front of me that I was operating under the impression that we’d all died and gone to hell, and this was our eternity. We were in The Bad Place, and there would be no end. Everyone agreed, facetiously. I knew I was joking, but there was a little piece of me that wondered how much truth there was to what I’d just said. Inside the tent there was no view of the entrance. We had no idea how many or how frequently people were being let inside. At one point, I saw the group in front of me looking at Facebook and talking rather passionately. I looked at one of them and asked them what was going on as it was clearly relevant to the situation at hand. Apparently, Sunnyside had just posted on Facebook that due to high demand, they were limiting sales to one item per category. This didn’t bother me at all, I wasn’t there to buy the entire store. But this obviously frustrated people. At this point we’d waited for well over five hours. We’d had no communication about estimated wait time or availability of product from anyone with Sunnyside. The lack of preparation was one thing, but the lack of communication with potential customers was negligent and extremely poor business practice. The only progress we knew was the incremental footsteps we’d take. The line in the tent didn’t move like the line outside. Rather than moving like a traditional line with long paths travelled interrupting long periods of stopping, the line seemed to move constantly, but in very, very small steps. Nearly everyone in the tent was jumping, stretching, or moving in some fashion in an attempt to stay warm and to keep feeling in their extremities. Instead of moving in steps, we all just unintentionally moved closer through this movement. This made progress seem non-existent.
11 AM HOUR
When 11 AM rolled around I’d finally reached the last queue. We were in the home stretch, and we’d be among the next 40 or so people to be served. There was an overwhelming sense of achievement among the groups around me. I didn’t feel this way. My phone had died and as my only contact with my friend who had my car, I was a ball of anxiety. Every parking lot within a half mile radius was full. Security had every entrance blocked off and I had no idea how I’d reunite with my friend once the transaction was over. I tried not to let the combination of anxiety and bitter cold become overwhelming, but that little piece of me that I spoke of earlier that was convinced I was in actual Hell? It was growing larger by the minute. Sunnyside knows they have no competition currently in the market, and that lent itself to poor business practices. This was joked about in the line a lot. “When I get in there, I’m buying my weed and I’m saying ‘Thank you. Fuck you. You Suck. I’ll see you next week.’” We still couldn’t see the entrance or exit and at one point we hadn’t moved, even incrementally, for a good 15 minutes. A rather loud woman behind us barged to the front of the tent and screamed something to the effect of “PEOPLE ARE FREEZING OUT HERE, LET’S GO!!!” and almost immediately after that, about 10 people were let inside the building. More than likely, the woman yelling had no effect on the line at all, but in her mind, she was a folk hero. “Sometimes ya just gotta speak up”, she said with a confidence I could only dream of. The line moved more in those 10 seconds than it had since the doors opened at 6 AM, and we were finally outside of the tent.
THE HOME STRETCH
Now that we were outside of the tent, we could finally see the entrance and the exit. It was about 25 feet away from the end of the line, so when people came out with product they were cheered and jeered publicly. “WAS IT WORTH IT?!?!?” was the cry of the crowd, usually met with a response in the negative. We could see an employee opening the door to let people out, and shortly after let in the same amount of people that just exited. This final stretch lasted about 15 minutes. At one pointed, the employee opened the door to let two people in and the group behind me screamed, “HEY DUDE I’M GONNA NEED TO SEE YOU MORE OFTEN LET’S GO NOW!!!” The employee misheard him and thought the patron had used the employee’s name. “I thought you said my name, it’s Moe”, the employee told us. Now every time the door opened and closed he was greeted in a similar fashion. ‘There’s ‘Moe’ space in there, Moe! Let us in!!” I was still filled with anxiety over my phone and the fact that I couldn’t feel my toes, but I was happy everyone else seemed to be in good spirits. I still wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t patiently waiting to enter the depths of Hell, but as we inched closer to the door, I felt a sense of relief that this would all be over soon.
When Boston’s group was called, there was a raucous cheer from the crowd. “YOU DID IT! BAHHSTON HAHBAH!!” was the exclamation as Boston walked towards the door, both hands in a fist pointing towards the sky. It was like watching an old friend walk across the graduation stage; proud of his accomplishment and knowing your own reward is coming soon. A couple more groups were let in and after 6 hours and 28 minutes in line, I was finally next. Moe swung the door open and from 25 feet away looked at me, held up the number 2 to indicate they were ready for the next two. I walked up to the door with a stranger but at that moment we might as well have known each other forever. We looked at each other and smiled. This was finally it. I entered the dispensary, Moe graciously holding the door, and I looked around.
Inside the dispensary was well, a room. It was a waiting room with seven familiar people sitting in chairs, one of them was Bahston, writing on forms. There were three people in line to see a security guard who was checking in people with their ID’s. I quickly scanned the room for any sight of an iPhone charger, but didn’t see anything. When it was my turn to give the security guard my ID, I searched with my eyes behind his desk, but didn’t see any hope there either. I thought about asking him, but any process of possibly gumming up the works and delaying, even for a second, the hundreds upon hundreds of people lined up outside wasn’t worth entertaining. He gave me my ID back and I sat in one of the chairs where I was handed a menu and an order form. I’d already perused the menu outside; they had one waiting on a table just outside the tent. With my dead phone weighing heavily on my mind, I sat down and quickly filled out my order. When I looked up I saw a man with a Sunnyside hat on. He had an iPhone in his hand and from the iPhone came a cord that extended from his pocket. A portable charger. He was almost to the door. I was frozen in my chair. He reached out to open the door. “SIR!!” I hopped up and ran toward him. In a stunning act of universal balance, he let me use his charger. Being able to properly process a transaction that I waited 6.5 hours for without the anxiety of not knowing my next step was fair and just. It wasn’t life or death and I’m certain I would’ve figured out a solution, but for someone with social anxiety already, it was bleak. My focus turned from my near future back to the present. The people in line who frequently complained that everyone inside was taking too long suddenly seemed at ease with a slower pace. They scanned the menu, front to back, left to right, in a meticulous fashion. I certainly didn’t and I was anxious to buy. I was let into another room, with another line, this one 15-20 people.
This room smelled and looked like a familiar dispensary. A diverse group of young employees stood in a modern room behind clear glass desks and sleek cash machines. It could’ve been an Apple store, with its modern, corporate feel. We were all given swag bags. Bahston was particularly excited, “I’ll advertise fo yah, I love dis stuff.” The bags had water bottles, a grinder, a coupon, among other things. “No thank you”, I told the young lady, having neither the courage nor the wind in my lungs to say “I’d rather not be a walking advertisement for a corporation that exhibited poor, if not irresponsible business practices by having gathered insufficient market data to properly gameplan for having 500 people standing in the literal freezing bitter cold, most of them for well over 6 hours but since you’re my only source of legal pot I have to continue being your customer but as a social protest I will not take your bag.” This line moved just as slow as the line outside, but at least we could see why. There were between 7-10 employees conducting transactions. One young man had his airpods in and was clearly having a conversation with some form of tech support about the cash machine in front of him. This wasn’t so clear to Bahston, who yelled out, “Ey you ready fah me over dere?” “Just trying to make sure these two work”, was the friendly response from the clearly annoyed and relatable employee. When Bahston finally did get called to a register, the familiar cry of “BAHSTON HAHBAH” in this much more intimate setting was muted, but still prominent. When I got to my cashier, she asked for my ID. I presented it and she walked away. She came back from a window that has vault access with my order. They substituted both items because they didn’t have what I asked for, but they were the same in principle. All products were comparable, just different strains. There was nothing notable about the transaction, other than the product. The cashier was exactly what you’d expect from a corporate employee. She had no empathy for my plight, and I don’t blame her. More than likely underpaid, a near certainty she’s overworked, and she’s probably has had more than a few difficult customers today. My suffering was self-induced, why should she give a shit? I gave her money, she gave me change and my bag, and I walked back into the lobby. My charged phone awaited, but my dignity after waiting 6.5 hours to buy pot, that was gone forever.