Just two minutes before the Monday grand opening of Logan Square's first medical marijuana dispensary, co-owner Doug Marks steps out of the space's Milwaukee Avenue entrance. The entryway is easy to miss—the word "moca," short for Modern Cannabis, is stamped on the door in bright yellow, pink, and blue, but the words nearly blend in with the mass of posters and graffiti that dominates the adjacent wall.
A slow trickle of people would follow, but it was hard to tell from the outside: anyone without a medical marijuana card—including the media—were barred from entering the dispensary's main floor.
"We don't want it to feel like it's a prison when you're inside, but. . . it does require a couple of steps to make sure you can be in there," Marks said. "It's more secure than a bank, essentially—anyone can walk into a bank."
Modern Cannabis will carry a range of products, including flower—the industry term for standard weed, pre-rolled joints, oil pens, and chocolate. Marks, who also co-owns neighboring arcade bar Emporium, explains that his companies have one important thing in common: they're "highly regulated businesses" where "we only sell things to qualified people over the age of 21."
"We have to be very careful in inventory," he adds. "We have to be very careful about how we describe our product to people, whether it's craft beer or cannabis."
Photos of the interior posted on Moca's Facebook page show a clean, welcoming space—white with splashes of color designating where patients should wait to be helped or where they can browse the available products. But the space also features bulletproof glass, vaults, and retired police officers at the ready. Marks' seven employees have all passed FBI background checks and had their fingerprints documented.
Modern Cannabis hit some snags along the way to opening—depending on how you look at it, Marks says, the dispensary has been delayed for "months or years." Delays were largely due to the strict building regulations dispensaries are subject to, including rules that account for Moca's heightened security and require the building to exclude have residential units, which Marks said made finding a location in Chicago difficult from the start. But he thinks Logan Square, with its progressive politics and growing population of young people, was the right neighborhood for this budding industry.
A handful of customers came in for the opening, Marks says. Patients designate one dispensary from which they pick up their medical marijuana, and while there may be local patients interested in Modern Cannabis, he assumed they would have wanted to see them open their doors before making the decision to transfer.
The number of patients in Illinois is still low with about 4,400 people registered. Marks just hopes more qualifying conditions will be approved so that he and others can "get more people the medicine that's going to help them."
In February 2018, this article was updated to use the phrase ‘arcade bar’ in place of the word originally used.