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Smoke Shops Look to Join Dispensary Business After Medical Weed Legalized

By Serena Dai | August 2, 2013 8:56am
 Lakeview smoke shops react to legalization of medical marijuana in Illinois.
Smoke Shops on Medical Marijuana Legalization
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LAKEVIEW — The state may still be months away from actually allowing the sale of marijuana, but local smoke shop owners are already thinking about the next step — getting in the dispensary business.

Some family-owned smoke shops are planning to apply for one of the 60 medical marijuana dispensary licenses that the state will dole out as part of a pilot program, meaning they could sell weed and a pipe to smoke it in.

The legalization law is limited right now, with only patients with select illnesses qualifying for marijuana. But eventually, attitudes and laws will change, and business could skyrocket as weed becomes more mainstream, some Lakeview head shop employees said.

"How could it not?" said Jasper Jones, an employee at Smoke Shop, 3248 N. Clark St. "People will start coming out of the woodwork to smoke."

Smoke shops typically sell tobacco and tobacco-related products like glass pipes. Once the glass pipes leave the store, though, they are often used to smoke marijuana instead.

Smokers Zone, a family-owned shop at 3326 N. Clark St., has gained a lot of regulars in its 10 years. Customers have been asking about legalization for weeks, said Sammer Shaik, an owner of Smokers Alley Inc., which has two Smokers Zone shops in Lakeview and one in the suburbs.

If his family can nab a dispensary license, qualifying customers could buy both their pipes and their weed from them, he said.

"It's going to elevate the business," said Shaik. 

But entrepreneurs will not be able to set up shop for months.

The medical marijuana law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday does not take effect until next year, and after that, the Illinois Department of Financial Professional Regulation must still write the rules on how people can get dispensary licenses, said department spokeswoman Susan Hofer. 

It's likely that people won't even be able to apply until next summer, Hofer said, let alone start their business. And since the department wants to make sure the 60 licenses are spread across the state, they won't be issuing licenses immediately so that they can prevent crowding, Hofer added.

"It has to be done carefully because this is a pilot program and we want to get it right," she said.

Shaik admitted to being nervous about being able to nab a license. If they do get one, the family would like to open a dispensary in the Loop, he said. 

"It's going to be competitive," he said.

Other smoke shops just hope to stay alive in the face of potential weed opposition.

Abdul Zakir, who runs his uncle's Smoke Shop at 3309 N. Clark St., has read about local municipalities responding to legalization laws by banning the sale of glass pipes — 50 percent of his business.

Florida tried to ban them but failed, and at least three towns in Minnesota have successfully criminalized the sale of glass pipes.

If medical marijuana remains legal, people will start feeling more comfortable about entering a smoke shop, and his business will grow, he said. But different laws could pop up and crack down on businesses like his, he said.

"It could benefit us," he said, "or it could suddenly shut us down."