Opening Day Line

People wait in line outside of the ReLeaf Center in Niles on Thursday morning, Jan. 23, to buy recreational marijuana. The dispensary, along Terminal Road, is the first in Southwest Michigan to open for recreational marijuana sales. - photo by Alexandra Newman

NILES — Southwest Michigan saw its first legal recreational marijuana sales Thursday morning, Jan. 23, and judging from the line and the enthusiasm of buyers, demand for the once-illegal product is strong.

The line outside the door at The ReLeaf Center for Compassionate Care in Niles, at 1840 Terminal Road, was about 25 people deep 30 minutes prior to opening, and had grown to nearly 75 people just a half hour after opening.

One Niles resident described it like standing in line for a rock concert.

“It’s worth the wait,” Dennis Hanthorn of Niles exclaimed to the line after buying some edibles and flower.

Hanthorn was third in line when he got to the dispensary a little over an hour before it opened.

He said he’s been looking forward to it.

“It’s about time they legalized it recreationally,” he said. “I’ve been working toward getting a medical marijuana card from my doctor. He told me to stop smoking cigarettes, but didn’t tell me to stop smoking weed.”

Nigel of Niles, who asked that his last name not be used, was also one of the first people in line Thursday.

He said it’s nice not having to worry about the legality of it and nice not having to drive to the other side of the state.

“I think a lot of places will start changing their minds when they start to see the revenues coming in. It’s going to help the communities,” he said. A group of co-workers who travel for work, and were working nearby this week, came straight to the dispensary after their third shift ended.

One of those co-workers, Andrew Frisinger of Colorado, said he uses marijuana because he has anxiety and it helps him eat and sleep.

“You can have a bad day, then be like, I’m going to smoke this joint, and it doesn’t even matter, you get a fresh new start,” he said.

It’s a little different for his co-worker Daniel Prothero of Ohio.

“I’m a performer so this is literally my inspiration,” he said. “I honestly don’t make any type of music before smoking weed. It makes me feel so fluent. I vibe completely. It’s almost like I can hear different things. My senses come alive.”

Frisinger said there are dispensaries on practically every corner in Colorado, so when he’s traveling for work it’s harder to get, but he has a routine.

“We work third shift so we come (to a dispensary), go home, smoke, relax, maybe go eat food and go to bed,” Frisinger said.

The co-workers said they believe recreational marijuana use should have been legalized a long time ago.

“I think the movement toward legalization creates hope for a lot of people,” Prothero said. “This is something that people don’t want to let go. And in their place they have no choice but to be discreet and hide it. It’s creating a way for people to come out of their shell and really express themselves as a person. So the fact that it could become legal is like beyond terrific.”

The ReLeaf Center opened for medical marijuana sales in late October 2019. It was the first such shop to open in Niles.

The Niles City Commission, also in October, approved the ordinance allowing recreational marijuana facilities.

On Jan. 6 the ReLeaf Center was licensed by the state to sell the drug recreationally.

Medical marijuana facilities were the first facilities allowed to apply for recreational licenses in Michigan.

An employee at the store fielding calls Wednesday afternoon said they had already had about 50 people call that day asking about when the store would be selling recreational marijuana.

“We’ve had such interest we’re putting limits on recreational customers because we don’t want to run out too soon,” the employee said.

Recreational customers can purchase up to 2.5 ounces in a day, according to Michigan’s recreational marijuana law. However, ReLeaf has a two-gram limit in place for now.

In other parts of Southwest Michigan, The Green Door in Bangor got its license from the state on Jan. 23 to sell recreational marijuana, according to the state licensing website.

There is no date yet for when sales will begin there.

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