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Illinois Cannabis Players Tout “Very Successful” Adult-Use Launch

February 25, 2020

The legalization of recreational cannabis in Illinois has been an undisputed success in the early going, with demand robust and the biggest challenges involving maintaining supply and accommodating heavy consumer traffic. After legalizing effective January 1, the state reported almost $40 million in adult use sales for the first month, with 41 stores selling nearly 1 million individual cannabis products. “Overall, and particularly compared to Massachusetts, it was a very successful launch,” says Ben Kovler, CEO of Green Thumb Industries (GTI).

“For a Midwestern state like Illinois to have the largest first month of sales of any regulated cannabis market in the country says a lot about people’s opinion and interest in accessing cannabis,” notes Jason Erkes, chief communications officer at Cresco Labs. “Illinois is the first state to pass this legislatively with a thoughtful piece of legislation that includes social equity and social justice. For the lieutenant governor to come out and make a purchase on the first day is a significant thing. Our four Sunnyside retail locations are still experiencing 1-2 hour waits every day that we’re open.”

Erkes attributes long lines to the education process. “It’s really explaining different forms and proper dosage and making sure that all their questions get answered because they’re all new consumers and it requires time with each customer,” he says.

No amount of forward planning can prepare a business for such a large influx of new consumers. “Lines, product shortages, and traffic congestion were the problems that we’ve known for months were on the horizon,” says Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs at PharmaCann. “The governor’s office has been unwilling to allow us to relocate our existing medical dispensaries from the medical office buildings and industrially zoned neighborhoods where we were relegated when the medical program started five years ago. As a result, our host municipalities are really working hard to accommodate our businesses in areas not originally planned for traditional retail.”

PharmaCann currently operates four dispensaries under the Verilife brand in Illinois, with a fifth store to open soon in Chicago. Recent visits to dispensaries throughout the Chicagoland market showed that Verilife locations tended to have the highest amount of traffic and longest lines. “We spent (and continue to spend) hours with our neighbors and our host municipalities working on strategies for ameliorating these issues,” Unruh says. “Hiring extra security to help manage crowds, leasing adjacent parking options, and encouraging our customers to pre-order online are some of the ways we’re managing the initial rollout.” He notes that 14%-15% of overall adult-use purchases in the state during the first month of recreational sales were made at Verilife dispensaries.

Other issues that have arisen include a shortage of flower across the state. “It will take a little while for the supply to catch up and be broad-based,” Kovler explains. “You had 30-plus stores flip the switch on day one and offer adult use, which spread out the demand. It’s a farmer’s market because you’re dealing with plant matter and you had demand go up 5-10 times or greater. Supply can’t ramp that fast with the bill passing just six months ago.”

Industry players believe the strong rollout of adult use sales in Illinois bodes well for the continuing emergence of recreational programs throughout the country. “Other states will look to the Illinois model,” Kovler says. “Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Maryland all essentially used the Illinois model on medical, and these states will have the same opportunity to use it on legalization, as it brings in jobs and tax revenue. The Illinois launch is just further evidence that this is a viable, credible, robust, multibillion-dollar industry forming right in front of our eyes.”—Amber Drea

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