New Year’s Day was a historic day for cannabis in the United States. At 6 a.m. CST, more than three dozen licensed cannabis shops opened their doors for the first time, as Illinois joined the ranks of 10 other states with legalized recreational marijuana. Waiting on the other side of those doors were thousands of Illinoisans—and some out-of-staters— eager to be among the first to legally purchase cannabis in the state. And by the time shops closed up for the night, marking the end of the first day of retail cannabis, they’d tallied nearly $3.2 million in sales. Compare that to Colorado, which raked in just over $1 million in its first day of legal retail on January 1, 2014.
Illinois Tallies 77,128 Cannabis Sales on Day 1
77,128 transactions, averaging $41.18 each, for a total sales tally of $3,176,256. Those are the numbers the Illinois Department of Financial and Profession Regulation reported from the first day of recreational cannabis in Illinois. On New Year’s Day, January 1, 2020, Illinois became the eleventh state to permit people 21 and older to purchase and possess cannabis for recreational use. And Illinoisans came out in droves, many waiting in hours-long lines, to celebrate their new liberties.
“I’m here to celebrate a big day in Illinois,” said Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, who stood in line to buy a bottle of THC-infused gummies. Indeed, the scenes outside retail dispensaries were like little celebrations themselves, “joyous,” in the words of Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois. “People are extraordinarily courteous and civil,” Althoff said.
From Chicago to Collinsville, retail shops attracted thousands of customers willing to wait patiently in lines that stretched down streets, through alleys, around parking lots and across fields to purchase weed legally. And those lines are still there, and likely will be for the foreseeable future.
To manage the overwhelming demand, some shops have implemented purchase limits well shy of the 30 gram possession limit for flower and the 5 gram limit for concentrate. A statewide shortage of flower could mean limited options until cultivators can catch up.
Illinois Gov. Pritzker Marks Start of Legal Sales with 11,000 Pardons
Beyond the blowout sales figures, Wednesday was also an important day for two major provisions of Illinois’ recreational marijuana law. First, Wednesday marked the deadline for social equity applicants to file cannabis business license applications. Illinois’ marijuana law includes social equity provisions that lower licensing fees and provide lending and technical assistance for qualified applicants. These provisions aim boost industry participation among minorities and those most adversely impacted by the criminalization of marijuana.
A second social justice provision of Illinois’ recreational marijuana law provides criminal record expungement for low-level marijuana offenses. The expungement provision kicked in January 1, with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issuing more than 11,000 pardons for misdemeanor marijuana convictions.
Cannabis Shops Will More than Double in May
Illinois’ recreational cannabis industry is now in full swing, and set to expand significantly in the coming months. So far, the state has licensed 37 retail cannabis shops. But by May 2020, regulators say they’ll approve another 75 applicants. If regulators hold to that schedule, the state’s legal industry would better be able to meet consumer demand.
Adding more retail locations could also help lower prices. Many consumers are experiencing sticker shock at the dispensary checkout, with eighths of flower weighing in at around $65 plus sales tax. And due to higher excise taxes on infused products and products exceeding 35 percent THC, Illinois consumers will end up paying more than double for edibles and concentrates than consumers in markets like Michigan.
While high prices are raising criticisms that Illinois’ legal industry won’t be able to compete with illicit sellers, selling $3.2 million worth of cannabis in a single day suggests many are willing to pay the premium for legal, regulated, tested products. State officials estimate that by 2022, legal retail cannabis sales could generate $250 million for the state in taxes and fees.