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From Zero To $1 Billion: Illinois Adult-Use Market Booms In First Year

January 26, 2021

In its first year of adult-use legalization, Illinois raked in overall marijuana sales of more than $1 billion, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). That total includes $669 million in recreational revenue and $365 million in medical. In addition, the state collected more than $105 million in tax revenue through August 2020.

“Illinois had a fantastic first year with cannabis legalization,” says Jason Erkes, chief communications officer of Cresco Labs. “It’s been great for the businesses to be able to grow, it’s been great for consumers to have widespread access to cannabis products, and it’s been great for all the municipalities and for the state to generate much-needed tax revenue, especially during the pandemic.”

The first-year numbers indicate that the Illinois cannabis market will reach maturity much faster than predicted. “That is impressive growth and hardly at maturity given Illinois cannabis is expected to be a $3 billion market,” notes Linda Marsicano, vice president of corporate communications for Green Thumb Industries (GTI).

It’s also impressive in light of Covid-19, which imposed many restrictions on the way dispensaries and production facilities conducted business. During the first two months of adult-use sales in Illinois, dispensaries faced long lines and supply shortages with an influx of new cannabis consumers. Then the state went into lockdown and forced the stores to revamp their systems and procedures to comply with social distancing and sanitization guidelines.

“The pandemic added a number of logistical difficulties, completely changing the way we interact with our customers,” explains MedMen chief revenue officer Tracy McCourt. “We immediately implemented an enormous amount of protocol to ensure the safety of both our customers and our employees—one being a notable shift to encouraging online ordering.” MedMen, which recently sold its Evanston, Illinois, dispensary, is now focused on growing its Oak Park business and plans to open a new store in Illinois later this year.

“Covid did two things,” says Jeremy Unruh, senior vice president of public and regulatory affairs for PharmaCann. “Number one, it cemented cannabis as an essential product. Number two, it forced us to improve our technology and our dispensary operations by moving to an online reservation system.” PharmaCann currently operates four Verilife dispensaries in Illinois, primarily in the Chicago suburbs, with plans to launch four more stores by the end of March, including one in Downtown Chicago.

As Verilife eyes expansion, the issuing of new dispensary licenses has been impeded not only by the pandemic, but by lawsuits and other challenges. “Right now there are some bills moving through the legislature that are designed to fix those problems and to basically skirt the current logjam for the awarding of the licenses,” Unruh adds.

Jonah Rapino, director of marketing for NuEra, notes that cannabis licenses are hard to come by in Illinois. “We’re working with other applicants who are trying to get licenses for retail dispensaries because there are going to be 75 new ones issued in the state,” he says. “They might be delayed once again because of the pandemic, but Illinois is really trying to set up a lot more opportunities for people to buy cannabis.” NuEra has three Illinois dispensaries, which are located in East Peoria, Urbana, and Chicago. We’ll have more on Illinois’ successful rollout of adult-use cannabis—and the outlook for 2021—in an upcoming SND Cannabis Edition.—Amber Drea

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