It’s been two years since the Prairie State legalized recreational cannabis. Where does the Illinois cannabis industry stand today? We investigate.
The Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act passed in 2019. This landmark move made Illinois the first state to legalize recreational cannabis sales through the state legislature rather than voter initiatives.
Leading up to this legislation, Illinois passed the Cannabis Control Act in 1978. This technically permitted medical marijuana use but hit a dead end when the human services department and state police failed to move it forward as required. Medical cannabis was not available to patients until after 2013, when former Governor Patrick Quinn signed the program into law. Six years later, Illinois joined the ranks of states with legal adult-use cannabis.
Illinois medical marijuana laws
The qualifying conditions list for medical cannabis in Illinois is large. It includes autism, irritable bowel syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Tourette syndrome among other more commonly included conditions like cancer and intractable pain.
Patients may possess up to two and a half ounces of cannabis in a two-week period, which can be obtained through home cultivation of up to five mature plants, or through the state’s licensed dispensaries.
Adult-use Illinois cannabis laws
Anyone 21 years or older can purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in Illinois. But if you’re caught with 30-100 grams, you could get charged with a misdemeanor and face up to $2,500 in fines and up to a year incarceration. A repeat offense or possession of more than 100 grams will result in a felony.
While registered medical users can grow up to five plants, adult-use cannabis users are prohibited from cultivation. However, if you’re caught growing up to five plants for personal use, you’ll just receive a civil violation and a $200 fine.
Cannabis sales data and market growth
In its first month of legal recreational sales, the Prairie State saw over $39 million in total sales. One year later, January 2021 brought in nearly $89 million. About 28% of the January 2021 sales came from out-of-state visitors. In 2021, the state brought in $1.4 billion in sales, a large increase from the over $669 million 2020 brought in.
High taxes are driving Illinois’ illicit market
There’s no question that Illinois is raking in the cannabis cash, but the illicit market remains on top. BDSA estimated the illicit market at over $1.7 billion in 2021 sales, noting that Illinois cannabis prices are higher than any other state.
The reason? The state’s cannabis taxes are very high. Rather than impose an excise tax on retail prices, Illinois taxes by cannabis type. Products with 35% THC or less are taxed 10% of the purchase price and products with 35% THC or more are taxed at 25%. Infused products are taxed at 20% of the purchase price.
Flower is currently priced higher than any other state. For instance, an eighth of flower in Illinois averages about $60 and is much cheaper when acquired from the illicit market.
Social equity in Illinois
High taxes may be driving the illicit market, but the money is at least being used to reinvest in communities most harmed by the War on Drugs. The Cannabis Regulation Fund is Illinois’ main source of money put toward social equity goals. In 2021, a reported $134.1 million was being used to finance two programs aimed at helping communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition and funding mental health and drug treatment initiatives.
The state is also using revenue to fund expungements. At the beginning of 2021, Governor Pritzker announced he had expunged nearly 500,000 marijuana-related convictions. Thousands of people are still eligible for expungement in the state today, however.
But the Illinois social equity program has a history of scandals and licensing problems, particularly with companies using their ties to get unfair advantages in the licensing lottery when the industry began. Several lawsuits were filed and the process was amended to include three lotteries, each with different qualifications to allow more chances at a license.
Cannabis licensing in Illinois
Cultivation centers, craft growers, processors, transporters, and retailers make up the five cannabis license types in Illinois. Prospective cannabis business owners must follow all steps of the process, including a background check, filling out applications, and paying fees. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is responsible for overseeing all licensing.
Adult-use licensing is currently on hold, though, as result of several lawsuits challenging the unfair licensing process.
Big players in the Illinois market
Despite its issues, the Illinois cannabis market has seen expansive growth. Naturally, some key players stick out when we look at the industry. The following have all been selected as top parent companies to watch by BDSA:
Based in Chicago, Verano produces curated collections of strains, pre-rolls, vapes, and extracts. Their flower is cultivated in-house and used for all of their products. Verano is also the name behind other Illinois cannabis brands, such as Avexia and Encore.
Although they operate in 10 recreational states, Cresco Labs is based in Chicago, Illinois. The vertically-integrated company has 21 production facilities, 51 retail licenses, and owns 49 dispensaries.
Green Thumb Industries
Headquarted in Chicago, Green Thumb Industries is responsible for a large portfolio of products, including Dogwalkers, Incredibles, and Beboe. The company started in 2014 and is now incorporated in British Columbia, Canada, as well.