Already a day off for marijuana stores? Closures reflect scheduling, hiring challenges

It was time for a break Monday for employees of two shops selling recreational marijuana in the Northwest and West suburbs.

After launching to long lines on New Year's Day and continuing sales the next four days, Rise Mundelein and Verilife in North Aurora joined some others across the state in closing Monday to give workers a day off.

In the first five days of the year, dispensaries across the state sold more than $10.8 million in recreational cannabis in 271,169 transactions, according to figures released Monday by the Illinois Department of Federal and Professional Regulation.

"On New Year's Day, the people of Illinois saw firsthand what is possible when we all come together in a spirit of compassion and unity around the power of cannabis to spread well-being," Rise Mundelein said on its website. "We believe that wellness is a right - for everyone. On Monday, Jan. 6, we will be closing #RiseMundelein so that our dedicated staff may have a day to care for themselves and their families."

Store operators say their supply of dry flower cannabis continues to be limited, but Monday's closures had more to do with employee scheduling and low staffing than with product shortages in the state-regulated market.

Corporate employees of Pharmacann, which runs Verilife dispensaries, including one in North Aurora, have been helping fill retail shifts in an all-hands-on-deck approach since Jan. 1, said Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs.

Qualified employees are at a premium as the recreational market launches, Unruh said, because they must have a "dispensary agent" card from the state, proving they've been fingerprinted, background-checked and registered with the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Receiving an agent card can take weeks, Unruh said, making the hiring process slower for dispensaries than for other retail businesses.

So after five days of sales, Pharmacann closed its dispensaries Monday "to give our employees a much-needed break," Unruh said.

EarthMed in Addison, however, was open on Monday. The store had taken a breather Sunday, remaining open then only for medical patients, for whom all dispensaries are required to keep a one-month supply in stock.

"Whatever flower we get is pretty much dedicated to them," EarthMed's Chief Operating Officer Mike Perez said.

So by Monday, EarthMed - a dispensary that is not "vertically integrated" with a cultivator as part of the same business - was selling primarily edibles and vapes to recreational customers.

"Right now it's a scramble just to get product from anybody," Perez said.

EarthMed and other stores have dealt with flower cannabis shortages from licensed Illinois growers by limiting the amount each recreational customer can buy. Unruh said that meant many customers couldn't get as much as they wanted of their top-choice product, but "nobody was turned away if they wanted to purchase some type of cannabis."

News stories warning of potential shortages as the state's 16 growers ramp up production told customers what they could encounter in search of their first legal marijuana, Unruh said.

"It was chilly, it was crowded and there weren't as many products as we would have liked to have available," he said. "But by and large, everybody had a smile on their face. Most people had a pretty good grasp of what to expect."

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