Though Park Ridge has had a long journey to opening its first cannabis dispensary after recreational cannabis became legal in Illinois in 2019, Sociale, a woman- and immigrant-owned dispensary, has opened its doors.
Sociale started a soft launch Aug. 22 and a grand opening is set for Sept. 7 to 10 at the dispensary, 1036 West Higgins Road. Marketing manager Sam Schlesinger said Sociale will be offering merchandise giveaways and on-site vendors.
Owner Annu Khot, who grew up in India, said she hopes the dispensary’s proximity to O’Hare International Airport attracts tourists. She also said she’s excited that Sociale, pronounced so-she-AHL, will be Park Ridge’s first dispensary.
With newcomers to dispensaries in mind, Khot said she is focused on delivering an “exceptional customer experience.” She added, “I will not even say customer service, because customer service is so basic.”
For Khot, it is important that the store’s associates, or budtenders, educate customers on what they are buying, and that it can be used as an alternative medicine. However, “we are not medical advisors,” Khot said. “You’re buying from people who are not medically trained and we have disclaimers all over our dispensary as well, but giving an exceptional customer experience is huge for Sociale.”
Preparation for the dispensary goes back to 2019, Khot said. Khot applied for and was granted a social equity license with the state, becoming one of 55 dispensaries that won a lottery. Khot says she had tried getting her foot in the cannabis door before then, applying six times with the state for a medical cannabis license when Illinois legalized medical marijuana in 2014.
Schlesinger said the dispensary will have 25 employees, with the hiring team scouting through traditional job recruitment websites and also through social equity hiring events.
The hiring team had a tough time finding employees who live in what the state calls disproportionately impacted areas, areas that have high rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration related to cannabis, said Khot. Because Sociale has a social equity license, over half of its staff is required to live in a disproportionately impacted area.
Khot said “The impact that we have seen while hiring [the staff] is immensely motivating and fulfilling. For most of them, it’s their first job in [the] cannabis industry.” Khot added, “It made me feel good that I’m keeping my promise to the state and to our people as well.”
Park Ridge does not qualify as a disproportionately impacted area, and Khot said through partnerships with nonprofit groups they were able to find employees who did.
Focusing on women-owned brands and social equity brands is important to Khot. “It’s an industry, well, where the level playing field is not equal,” Khot said. “So I want to make sure that you know if I am given an opportunity and a platform I want to showcase those brands first.”
Cannabis is not legal in Khot’s native India, but she says it is culturally and religiously accepted.
“While growing up, my family had always introduced me to explore alternative medicine when it came to taking care of my physical and emotional well-being,” Khot said. “When I moved to [the] United States, I felt there was a huge gap when it came to alternative medicine. I became so dependent on doctors and you know, their prescriptions and you know, I was just not feeling myself,” she added.
Keeping connected to her medicine helped Khot and her family through tough times. “I went through a series of miscarriages,” Khot said. “I went through seven pregnancies; I was able to hold one. I have a healthy-nine-year old baby boy right now.”
Khot says her last miscarriage was in 2017 and she was prescribed opioids to deal with the pain, but remembers telling the doctor that she would not need them because she knew how to deal with the pain. Khot also said she had family members who had cancer, and used cannabis to manage chemotherapy treatments to help get them through it.
Through Sociale, Khot says she hopes she can help change the way people view cannabis, saying, “This plant is amazing; why are we not promoting it?”