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Key Players Talk Trends In The Surging Illinois Cannabis Market

February 2, 2021

After revenues passed the $1 billion mark in its first year of adult-use sales, the Illinois cannabis market is primed for further expansion this year. Prominent players like Green Thumb, Cresco, and others are investing in production, branding, and new dispensaries, while monitoring and addressing rising consumer trends across the Prairie State.

One key issue cannabis companies are watching is the potential for oversupply, if dispensary licensing doesn’t keep up with production. Jeremy Unruh, senior vice president of public and regulatory affairs for PharmaCann, predicts that supply will overtake demand in the coming months. “Nearly every cultivator in Illinois began to expand their cultivation centers late last year and early this year, so all of a sudden that imbalance where there wasn’t enough whole flower to go around is about to turn on its head,” he says. “All the cultivators have built out and operationalized their production expansion, but the state hasn’t given out any more retail licenses. So in the next 120 days, the price of whole flower is going to go down dramatically, and there will be overproduction of whole flower until they issue new retail licenses and give us new channels to sell these products.” In recent days, the state announced that it’s set to begin the process of issuing a new round of licenses.

While whole flower continues to be the most popular cannabis category among consumers because it’s accessible and cheaper to purchase and produce, edibles are on the rise, due in part to being more discreet and easier to microdose. “There are a lot of edibles that come in the 2-milligram and 5-milligram doses, and we’re seeing a lot of people who are buying those to manage their experience throughout the day,” explains Cresco chief communications officer Jason Erkes. “That way they can get the benefits of cannabis without necessarily getting the high or euphoric effect.”

Cresco, which operates the Sunnyside retail brand, has maxed out its number of dispensaries at 10—the limit for licenses in Illinois—and is now focused on expanding its two Chicago locations and growing its house of brands, including the Mindy’s and Good News lines. “We look forward to other dispensaries across the state opening so we can introduce their clients to our wholesale products as well,” Erkes says. The company also recently announced its acquisition of Bluma Wellness, marking its foray into the Florida market.

NuEra is similarly investing in its production side. The company recently bought a cultivation center from PharmaCann and is in the process of expanding it. “We’re upgrading the place so we can grow more of the raw material, which is the flower, at a higher quality,” says Jonah Rapino, director of marketing. “From there, we’ll start branching out into edibles, topicals, concentrates, and extractions.”

Branding is the key to cannabis’ success, according to Green Thumb Industries vice president of corporate communications Linda Marsicano. “Distributing our brands at scale and new product offerings are top priorities,” she says, noting that gross branded product sales grew sequentially by more than 32% quarter-over-quarter in the company’s most recent financial report. GTI produces Dogwalkers pre-rolls, Incredibles edibles, Beboe pastilles and vapes, and Rythm vapes and flower. The company also operates nine dispensaries in Illinois, including seven under the Rise banner, and plans to open a 10th store in the Chicagoland area early this year.

“We’re very encouraged that cannabis has been deemed an essential business during the Covid crisis,” Marsicano adds. “It speaks to the legitimacy of the industry.”—Amber Drea

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