As cannabis customers celebrate 420, consumption becomes more common at sponsored events

One crucial new element will be added Thursday in Chicago to public celebrations of 420, marijuana’s unofficial holiday: smoke.

Cannabis has been legal in Illinois since 2020, but consumption in public remains illegal. Now, companies are finding ways around that ban by providing buses and other private areas for invited or ticketed customers to partake.

The trend is peaking just in time for April 20, a day when users celebrate their common interest — “420″ was said to be popularized as slang for weed by a group of California high schoolers who met at 4:20 p.m. to get high.

In Chicago, the Sesh City bus will start early with a “wake and bake” session from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Kinzie and Wells streets. It’s a precursor to a daylong Cannabis Innovation Lab Summit at the nearby Merchandise Mart.

“It’ll be cool to see people getting to enjoy and embrace the holiday,” Sesh co-owner McKensie Kahnweiler said. “Before, you had to hide it. Now, it’s awesome that people can enjoy it together. Everyone is well-behaved and happy.”

Only licensed dispensaries may sell pot legally, so visitors on the bus bring their own or are treated to samples by sponsoring cannabis companies. Only adults 21 and over are allowed, and they’re carded at the door.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations regulates only on-site consumption at licensed dispensaries, so anything else is up to local governments to enforce with permits.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously proposed allowing designated consumption areas, but some City Council members opposed it without more progress for Black and Latino business owners getting access to the business. In the resulting gray area of regulation, some businesses are providing their own consumption areas for special occasions.

There will also be buses for 420 parties at Green Rose dispensary in River North and at Curaleaf on Weed Street.

Green Rose will rent tents in its parking lot for live bands, DJs, comedy, an illusionist, body painting, a break dancing contest, food vendors and a fire show. The space can hold about 250 people.

“It’s a smaller event just to create more awareness,” Manager Ross Morreale said. “We’re utilizing the space to tie into the community a little better and provide entertainment.”

The Merchandise Mart event will feature the former head of the NBA Players Association, Michele Roberts, talking about new rules to eliminate cannabis testing for NBA players. Sponsors Grown In, Incubator 1871 and others will showcase innovative products and pitches to investors for new cannabis ventures.

Elsewhere, Grasshopper Club, a Black-owned dispensary in Logan Square, partnered with Big Kids to unveil a 420 “Hoppy Meal” featuring a special Grasshopper Club sandwich.

Last year, Dispensary 33′s Waldos Forever 420 street fest was canceled due to a fire at an auto shop across the street on the day of the fest. This year, the independent dispensary will hold a Waldos Forever OG Pizza Party on at Pizza Lobo in Andersonville.

As a whole, despite bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, the cannabis industry is in the dumps with investors, with some stocks at all-time lows. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, and the chances are low for Congress to legalize it.

Oklahoma voters recently rejected legalization. And prices have fallen from oversupply in some states like California and Michigan, and from newly legal stores in Missouri.

However, President Joe Biden has ordered a review of the classification of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug, which could eventually make it more available.

Still, groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana and Parents Opposed to Pot oppose commercialization of the drug, warning its use can lead to psychosis and cannabis use disorder. Illinois requires warnings that marijuana also impairs thinking, memory and driving, and that it is not recommended especially for pregnant women and those under 21.

The state’s most recent report on the cannabis industry found that as of June 2022, there were no cannabis license owners of color, one woman-owned dispensary license, and none owned by people with disabilities. Among majority owners, 82% were male and 88% were white.

Since then, 16 new licenses have been issued, many to minority owners, and 14 locations have opened, but most new licensees have been unable to get funding to open.

The industry also has consolidated, with 32 license ownership transfers in the past two fiscal years, many to large multistate operators.

Even though marijuana is legal, it’s only within certain limits, and people still get arrested with larger amounts. Police said recently they stopped a Missouri man who was speeding and found he had more than 80 pounds of pot in three large plastic bags.

That stop came around the same time the Illinois Senate passed a bill to prohibit police from making a traffic stop solely on the basis of cannabis smell coming from a vehicle. That measure has yet to be voted on by the House.

On the eve of 420, Teamsters members went on strike at three Rise retail stores in Niles and Joliet. Local 777 members said they were protesting the company making them take off their union badges at work. Company officials said they will keep negotiating and will keep the stores open.