$3.2 Million in Legal Weed Was Sold in Illinois on First Day

January 3, 2020by Ally Marotti
As the new era for legal marijuana in Illinois begins, Glenn Perkins shows off a container containing legal marijuana at a home in Calumet City, Jan. 1, 2020. Marijuana was purchased at the Mission Dispensary store in Chicago. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CHICAGO — Customers spent almost $3.2 million on legal weed in Illinois on the first day of recreational marijuana sales Wednesday, marking one of the strongest showings of any state in the history of pot legalization.

“This is particularly impressive when you consider the long waits, supply shortages and sky-high pricing of products available at the limited number of dispensaries open,” Bethany Gomez, managing director of cannabis research firm Brightfield Group, said of Illinois in an email.

Thirty-seven dispensaries started selling recreational weed Wednesday in Illinois, including nine in Chicago. As lines stretched around blocks and through neighborhoods, dispensaries handed out free coffee, doughnuts and pizza to people waiting in the cold. The state said customers, many of whom were eager to take part in the end of marijuana prohibition, made more than 77,000 purchases at dispensaries.

Some dispensaries were so busy they had to turn customers away on Wednesday, and many were greeted with dozens, and in some cases hundreds, more customers Thursday morning. Many dispensaries are limiting how much customers can buy because of statewide product shortages.

“The dispensaries were expecting long lines,” said Chris McCloud, spokesman for Illinois Supply and Provisions, which has dispensaries in Collinsville and Springfield. “This is probably even more than what they anticipated in terms of demand.”

Illinois Supply and Provisions served about 3,000 people at both of its dispensaries Wednesday. That’s a 10-fold increase from what the stores served “on a very good day” when they were medical only, McCloud said.

The Collinsville store was the only dispensary selling recreational marijuana in the St. Louis area. McCloud said he talked to customers there who had come from Missouri, Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Consumers are expected to spend $420 million at Illinois dispensaries this year, Brightfield Group predicts. In 2023, marijuana sales in the state could reach $1.3 billion, rivaling sales in Colorado. Overall, U.S. cannabis sales are expected to reach $22.7 billion by 2023, including $16.8 billion in recreational sales.

In Michigan, the only other Midwestern state that allows legal weed, people spent $221,000 on the first day of sales. But only three dispensaries were ready to go when sales started there.

Illinois was “a lot more ready to go, open on day one,” said Andrew Freedman, co-founder of consulting firm Freedman and Koski.

Illinois’ first day of sales fell on New Year’s Day, a vacation day for many who may have had more time to wait in the hours-long lines that formed at marijuana shops.

Additionally, Illinois is more populous than some western states. Marijuana sales during the first week in Colorado in 2014 accounted for $5 million, according to Brightfield Group. Washington’s first week brought in $2 million.

Illinois has not released tax revenue figures for Wednesday.

Marijuana taxes vary by product and by THC content, which is displayed on packaging. Marijuana-infused products will be taxed at 20%. All other marijuana with 35% THC or less will be taxed at 10%, and marijuana with THC content higher than 35% will be taxed at 25%.

That’s in addition to standard state and local sales taxes. Municipalities also can collect up to 3% in marijuana taxes, and many, including Deerfield and Buffalo Grove, have decided to do so.

The long lines at marijuana shops are expected to persist well through the weekend.

“I can’t imagine they (the lines) are ever going to be as long as they were yesterday,” said Kris Krane, president and co-founder of 4Front Ventures, which owns Mission South Shore dispensary in the South Chicago neighborhood. “But I do imagine we’re going to have lines just for the foreseeable future.”

Before Mission opened Thursday, the line stretched down the side of the building. Other Chicago dispensaries had lines that snaked down blocks and around corners, and downstate, people waited in parking lots and fields.

Five hundred people were lined up at Rise Mundelein at one point Thursday morning, and hundreds of people flocked to Cresco Lab’s Sunnyside Lakeview dispensary.

“Our lines at 10 a.m. this morning rivaled exactly what we saw yesterday, and we’re ramped up for day two,” said Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes.

Marijuana flower, or the dried bud that can be smoked, is experiencing the greatest shortage. Product shortages have occurred in almost every state that went from medical to recreational cannabis sales. Gomez, from Brightfield Group, said shortages also often cause high prices. She is already seeing that occur in Illinois.

“We have seen prices as high as $20 for a joint (compared with $8 to $14 in most mature markets), vape cartridges for $70 and the most egregious being an 1/8 ounce being sold for $80 (compared to $35 in most mature markets or on the street),” Gomez said.

It normally takes about 18 months for recreational supply to start meeting demand and for most licensed dispensaries to open, she said.

In Illinois, marijuana stores are required by law to make sure they have enough product for medical patients. Though some dispensaries have been experiencing certain product shortages since before recreational sales begin, most of the buying limits in place are for recreational customers.

Product shipments will continue to come into the shops around Illinois, but the pickings might remain slim at some dispensaries.

“I’ve got really just some chocolate bars,” said Gorgi Naumovski, principal officer at Thrive dispensaries in downstate Anna and Harrisburg, on Thursday morning. “We’ve got a delivery coming in today, another one tomorrow, so we’re just going to try to see how it goes.”

Together, the two dispensaries served almost 1,200 customers Wednesday, and people were lined up again Thursday morning. The wait times were shorter Thursday — maybe 1½ hours instead of three to four, he said. Workers were informing waiting customers about the shortage, but some said they were willing to wait in line just to see the inside of a dispensary.

“They’re just happy,” Naumovski said. “They say, ‘Well, if we can’t buy, we’ll really just check out your place.’”

NuMed ran out of flower at all three of its locations Wednesday, said principal officer Keith McGinnis. The dispensaries were set to get more products Thursday and Friday, but McGinnis said it will be interesting to see what happens heading into the weekend.

He wondered if people will choose to smoke weed instead of going to a bar on Friday and Saturday night.

Steve Weisman, CEO of Windy City Cannabis, which has dispensaries in Posen, Homewood, Worth and Justice, agreed. The stores were also expecting more product shipments before the weekend, and Weisman thought they would need them.

“I suspect this weekend will be pretty crazy as well,” he said. “Based on my experience in other states and what I’ve seen across the country, my guess is it’ll be a little crazy for the next couple of weeks.”

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©2020 Chicago Tribune

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