Illinois pot vendors started the new year by bringing in nearly $3.2 million on the state’s first day of legal recreational cannabis sales.
The state is the 11th to legalize cannabis for adult use. There were long lines and more than 77,000 transactions on Wednesday, according to former state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pot czar who oversees the state’s new equity-focused recreational cannabis program.
Pritzker’s office did not immediately provide the amount of tax revenue the state received from the sales. Illinois state taxes on cannabis products range from 10% to 25%, depending on the product’s concentration of THC, the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant. A first day of $3,176,256.71 in sales would bring in an estimated $317,000 for the state at a minimum, and about $794,000 at most, not including sales tax.
The whopping $3.2 million spent in Illinois on Wednesday greatly surpasses first-day sales in other states where recreational cannabis is legal. Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, saw a little more than $1 million in sales on its first day of legalization in 2014. Michigan, which implemented recreational marijuana in December, saw about $221,000 in sales on its first day, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“As we start a new decade, Illinois has achieved a monumental milestone ― launching the legalization of cannabis in a way that includes communities left behind for far too long, creates good jobs and expunges thousands of records for those who have lost out on opportunities and ends prohibition,” Hutchinson said on Wednesday. “Today is a historic new day, and as we move forward with growing this industry, I thank all those who worked hard to make the launch a success and will continue to dedicate themselves to expanding opportunities and righting the wrongs of the past.”
In June, Illinois became the first state to legalize the possession and sale of recreational cannabis through the legislature instead of through a ballot initiative. Under the state’s law, Illinois residents who are 21 and older are allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, and nonresidents can possess up to 15 grams.
Illinois is also leading the charge in implementing marijuana legalization in an equity-centered way, focusing on communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by the criminalization of marijuana. Illinois’ law includes a low-interest “social equity” loan program for minority-owned cannabis businesses to succeed in a predominantly white industry, and a program that channels 25% of cannabis sales revenue directly into communities that have been most affected by what Pritzker called “discrimination in the prosecution of drug laws in the criminal justice system.”
Additionally, about 315,000 Illinois residents with cannabis-related criminal records ― which adds up to nearly 770,000 cases ― are eligible to have their records expunged and to work in the cannabis industry. There are 116,000 cases eligible for expungement (for convictions of up to 30 grams that aren’t associated with a violent offense) through the governor’s pardon process. On Dec. 31, Pritzker granted more than 11,000 pardons for such cases.
“It is a sea change in policy. It is a sea change in drug policy reform, in criminal justice reform, in economic development and the intentionality that went behind building equity into these phases,” Hutchinson said Thursday at a press conference. “So we’re all acutely aware of the fact that we want to look back five years from now and say that Illinois was the state that figured it out, that it was the state that taught every state that came after us how to do it right.”
The law’s social equity program has come under fire, specifically in Chicago, where several Black officials called out the fact that every dispensary owner who was licensed to begin selling in the city on Wednesday was white. The Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus tried to pass an amendment pushing back the start of the city’s weed sales by six months so that officials can have more time to select dispensary owners of color, but the measure failed before the full city council.
More than 40 Illinois dispensaries received licenses to sell recreational cannabis starting Wednesday, though not all of them planned to immediately participate. Hutchinson said that Thursday marks the deadline for applications for the next 75 dispensaries that will be licensed on May 1.
In that round, officials will consider what they call “social equity applicants” who will receive extra points for consideration in the application process. To qualify, someone disproportionally affected by marijuana criminalization must either have majority ownership or control of the dispensary, or more than half of at least 10 full-time employees must fall into that category.
After the May 1 dispensary launch, the state government will conduct what Hutchinson called a “demand study” and “disparity study” to review the program’s rollout, see who it actually helped and decide whether any corrections need to be made to the law to better serve the communities that were harmed by the so-called war on drugs.
“I’m very encouraged, but we know that this is just the beginning,” Hutchinson said. “This is the end of prohibition, it’s the beginning of what this legal industry is going to look like, and it’s going to take some work.”
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