CHICAGO — Zachary Zises, the co-owner of Dispensary 33, says opening Chicago’s first medical marijuana dispensary is the most intellectually rewarding thing he has ever done.
Company: Dispensary 33
Owners: Zachary Zises, Kristie Zises, Paul Lee
Location: Chicago, Illinois
“It’s been a uniquely positive experience from the get-go,” he says. “Figuring out how to jump through those regulatory hoops and how to realize our vision as best we can within those regulations is really a non-stop struggle that I really enjoy.”
Zises and co-owners Paul Lee and Kristie Zises (Zachary’s sister-in-law), wanted their business to mirror the dispensaries found in California or Colorado, rather than the clinical approach inferred by the language of the state’s law.
“Nobody likes going to a doctor’s office and we never wanted this place to feel like one,” Zises says. “We have a strong feeling of what the experience should be for customers and have never deviated from that. We know that people don’t want to be treated like patients.”
Dispensary 33, which was named in homage to the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933, features a design inspired by traditional retail stores. Zises believes the wide-open sales floor sets it apart from competitors.
“If you are going to walk into an Illinois dispensary, it is going to look and feel a very particular way,” Zises says, pointing out the state’s heavy-handed approach to rules. Illinois has established regulations for some of the most minute facets of dispensaries, including the height of their transaction counter (48 inches).
Yet, Zises says he doesn’t feel compromised. The Dispensary 33 owners believe it’s important to display cannabis for patients, so they can see and smell the product before purchasing it.
“What really sets us apart from other dispensaries in Illinois is that we are really committed to displaying products to our patients,” Zises says.
However, Illinois law mandates that any packages that have been opened cannot be sold and must be destroyed, meaning the opened packages come at a direct cost to Dispensary 33.
“Our entire store’s layout and everything about how we interact with patients is predicated on the fact that patients have the right to — and completely benefit from — seeing the product before purchasing,” he says.
Ironically, the Dispensary 33 owners also get their first glimpse of product from the samples designated for destruction. All products are tested for mold and pesticides prior to shipping, so buyers from the store make decisions based on the cannabinoid profiles and lab results rather than physical inspection. The process makes strong relationships with cultivators even more important.