Central Illinois dispensary tour reveals these five insights 

While New York and other emerging cannabis markets struggle to open dispensaries licensed to social equity-designated ownership teams, Illinois – after a rocky start – has seen approximately 100 stores open in the last 18-to-24 months. 

In addition to the dozens of new pot shops opening in the Chicagoland BLS 5 district seemingly each week, new and innovative dispensaries and retail concepts are popping up all over the state. Grown In recently toured 15 of them in the Champaign, Danville, Kankakee, Decatur, Springfield and St. Louis markets across Central Illinois.

Here’s what we learned and experienced during Grown In’s Central Illinois dispensary tour.

  1. Multiple multi store operators throughout the state

Illinois, and Chicago in particular, is the land of several multi-state operators including Green Thumb Industries (Rise), Cresco Labs (Sunnyside), Verano Holdings (Zen Leaf), PharmaCann (Verilife), Ascend Wellness Holdings (Ascend) and Curaleaf (formerly Grassroots Cannabis). A decade ago, few people predicted that these fledgling medical licensees would emerge as among the largest cannabis companies in the world – and fastest growing Illinois companies to boot. 

Several of the next wave of cannabis chains coming out of Illinois originate or operate in the Central Region. Cloud 9 Dispensary, which we visited in Champaign, also has locations in nearby Edwardsville and Peoria, and will soon be opening up a forth location in Oswego.  

Another four-store chain with a presence in Central Illinois is Aroma Hill. We visited the Kankakee location at the beginning of our journey. Aroma Hill also has locations in Peoria and Belvidere in Central Illinois as well as Fox Lake in McHenry County in Northwest Illinois and Hoffman Estates in Suburban Chicago. 

Grown In’s inaugural trip to Pontoon Beach, Illinois just outside of St. Louis included a visit to one of four Cookies locations in the state. The Pontoon Beach ownership group also owns additional Cookies locations in Peoria Heights and Bloomington while a separate group operates an additional Cookies location in downtown Chicago. 

High Haven, which operates a location in suburban Chicago Darien, also has a new location in Bloomington, Illinois, home of Illinois State University.  

Finally, we went to the opening of The Dispensary Champaign, the third location of OG Illinois operator “The Dispensary” which has additional locations in Fulton and East Dubuque further northwest near the Iowa border.  

  1. Dearth of consumption Options – with one exception! 

While there are plenty of retailers that provide on-site consumption lounges in Suburban Chicago outlying areas including Okay! Cannabis locations in Wheeling and Evanston, GTI’s (Rise) near the Wisconsin border in Mundelein, Emerald Dispensary and Lounge in Island Lake and Spark’d in Winthrop Harbor (one of five locations), Molly’s Joint in the Indiana border town of Tilton is the only place in the central and southern part of the state where consumers can imbibe socially at the same place they legally purchase their weed.

Operated by the vertically-integrated 1937 Group out of Chicago, Molly’s is connected to the first of four Parkway dispensaries slated to open in Illinois in the coming months. The venue features ample space for live events, food table service from the connected restaurant and a plethora of games, screens and attention-attracting devices.  

  1. One stop shopping for THC and tunes 

Given Illinois’ strict regulations, it’s hard for cannabis retailers to differentiate stylistically within an increasingly competitive market. This challenge was music to the ears of cannabis retail veteran Brad Zerman, proprietor of Seven Point. in Danville (located across the street from a Sunnyside location).

Seven Point. is part dispensary, part record store and all inspiration to existing and upcoming cannabis retailers that want to bring innovation within what otherwise is a pretty formulaic customer experience in the state. And if you are not as much of a tune aficionado, know that the Seven Point. menu is among the most comprehensive in the state (including selections from multiple newly online craft growers).   

  1. Gateway to the rest 

The St. Louis market represents a city with two cannabis regimes, both the heavily regulated Illinois program as well as the newer to recreational and significantly lower taxed Missouri market. 

On the Illinois side, multiple St. Louis area dispensaries have cropped up over the last months. The upstart operators Village Dispensary (separate from The Village which is opening Chicago in the coming months) and Green Temple featured friendly staffs and sufficient selections to go along with multi store operators The Terrace (which also has a location in Moline), Cloud 9, Cookies, Revolution and Beyond Hello. 

If you find yourself on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River, we recommend stopping at Luxury Leaf, one of the only African American-owned dispensaries in the state, and Swade, which is part of vertically-integrated BeLeaf. 

  1. New cannabis in the capital 

Springfield has more options thanks to the Illinois expansion of out-of-state multistate operators High Profile (based on Ann Arbor) and Shangri-La, which also has locations in Missouri, Ohio and Connecticut. The newest independent cannabis retailer, Share., has strong local roots as it is owned and operated by real estate and casino developer Chris Stone. Previously, Stone started and in 2018 sold vertically-integrated HCI to Ascend Wellness Holdings in 2018.

With several dozen new dispensaries throughout the state slated to open up in the coming months, stay tuned for further Grown In coverage and events showcasing the best and brightest bud options throughout Illinois.