Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Illinois as Governor Pardons Over 11,000 Residents

Recreational Marijuana Becomes Fully Legal in Illinois

On New Year’s Day, Illinois became the 11th state where residents may legally purchase recreational marijuana. In June 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. The law allows licensed vendors to sell marijuana to residents aged at least 21 years old, beginning on January 1, 2020. Since medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2013, residents could previously only obtain cannabis with a medical marijuana card.

Across Illinois, thousands of people formed long lines outside of thirty-seven dispensaries to buy non-medical cannabis products. Nine of those dispensaries opened for business in Chicago, the largest city in the state and the third-largest city in the country. Many customers waited for hours in cold weather and paid high prices, sometimes as much as $80, for less than one ounce of marijuana. The supply of recreational marijuana available for sale in Illinois is limited by the state’s requirement that dispensaries maintain enough cannabis for medical marijuana patients. On January 1, some dispensaries sold their entire inventories. In just one day, dispensary customers in Illinois spent over $3 million, and the industry made over 77,000 sales.

The next day, January 2, the long lines formed again, sometimes extending for several blocks. Even Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton waited in line in Chicago to buy THC-infused orange gummies as she tweeted enthusiastically about “ending prohibition and building a more equitable Illinois.”

The neighboring state of Michigan has also legalized recreational marijuana. Sales began in Michigan on December 1, one month earlier than in Illinois. In one day, Michigan residents spent $221,000 to buy recreational marijuana. The industry in Michigan earned $6.5 million in profits in December and the state collected $1 million in marijuana sales taxes.

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Restrictions, Taxes, and Licenses

Under the new law, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in a public place, inside a motor vehicle, near a school, or in the presence of a person under the age of 21 or a first responder, such as a firefighter. Landlords and business owners may also prohibit marijuana on their private property. Colleges and universities in Illinois may still ban marijuana on campus. It remains a crime in Illinois to drive under the influence of marijuana.

Additionally, the new law does not allow residents to possess unlimited amounts of cannabis. It is illegal to possess more than 30 grams of hemp or more than 5 grams of cannabis concentrates. The law also bans “edibles” which contain more than 500 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Non-residents who visit Illinois are allowed to possess as much as half of these amounts.

Last year, the Illinois government began a competitive process for rewarding a limited number of licenses to potential marijuana vendors. The 55 medical marijuana dispensaries which have already been operating in Illinois had the first opportunity to apply for a license. On October 1, the state government released license applications for individuals and businesses which want to enter the marijuana industry. The applications were due between December 10 and January 2. An application for a license carries a $5,000 fee. The state will issue 75 new licenses on May 1, 2020.

This year, over 100 dispensaries may open in Illinois. Market analysts predict that Illinois dispensaries will earn about $420 million all together in 2020. By 2023, recreational marijuana profits in Illinois might surpass $1 billion, and Illinois could compete with Colorado to become the most lucrative state in America for the legal marijuana business.

Illinois Governor Pardons Thousands of Cannabis Convictions

On the last day of 2019, Governor Pritzker pardoned over 11,000 Illinois residents in 92 of the state’s 102 counties for marijuana-related misdemeanors. He announced the pardons at a church in Chicago. “We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core,” he said.

With the start of the new year, an additional 116,000 residents can have their criminal records expunged if they were convicted of possessing a maximum of 30 grams of marijuana. The Illinois State Police and the Prisoner Review Board are now responsible for identifying those convictions and recommending them to the Governor for pardoning.

Governor Pritzker has emphasized that the “War on Cannabis” has disproportionately impacted minorities in his state. For this reason, the new law requires the state to invest 25% of tax revenue from marijuana sales in the development of high-poverty areas and a further 20% in drug addiction treatment programs. The state must also give preference to people who belong to a minority group who apply for a license to open a dispensary.

The Department of Public Health Issues Warnings

As marijuana becomes legal in Illinois, the state’s Department of Public Health anticipates that many people will try it for the first time. The Department issued statements over the New Year’s holiday to remind the people of Illinois that using marijuana involves risks. More specifically, the Department recommended that people only try marijuana in small doses and wait for its effects to begin before using more.

The Department also listed some potential consequences of a marijuana overdose, including nausea, hallucinations, accelerated heart rate, and panic attacks. On New Year’s Eve, the Illinois Department of Human Services launched an official website, Let’s Talk Cannabis, to help people who choose to use marijuana stay safe and informed.

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