CHICAGO — Recreational weed sales have remained steady in Illinois despite the coronavirus pandemic and surging unemployment.
Statewide, legal weed sales totaled just more than $37 million for the month of April, according to figures released by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation on Monday. That’s the highest monthly sales total since January, when $39 million was sold in the first month weed went legal in Illinois.
Dispensaries were deemed essential businesses and allowed to stay open during Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay at home order, but were given new guidelines to promote social distancing and protect vulnerable medical patients and dispensary employees, including allowing curbside sales to medical patients. Those new guidelines will remain in effect through May 30.
Most dispensaries have restricted recreational sales to online pre-orders, while some, including Dispensary 33 in Andersonville and MOCA Modern Cannabis in Logan Square, have stopped selling to recreational customers in order to prioritize medical patients.
“Our top priority is to ensure consumers are safe when they go to a dispensary to purchase cannabis,” said Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor for Cannabis Control to Gov. Pritzker. “The steps we’ve taken to increase social distancing at dispensaries are accomplishing that, while also enabling this new industry to continue to grow. As such, curbside pickup will remain an option for medical cannabis users to obtain the product they need through May 30.”
Andy Seeger, a cannabis analyst at Brightfield Group, said the sales figures could have been higher if not for a continuing supply shortage and a downturn in sales from out-of-state residents.
“Two months of growth is good, it’s just kind of middling growth,” he said, “It’s highly restricted by the circumstances…that stay-at-home effect with the bordering states.”
Illinois residents bought up nearly $30 million in legal weed in April, while sales to out-of-state customers totaled $7.5 million. The 20 percent share of sales from out-of-state residents is the lowest number since sales began, down from 25 percent in March.
While existing pot shops have remained open, the pandemic caused a delay to when new entrepreneurs can enter the market, currently dominated by white men. Last week, Pritzker issued an executive order allowing state regulators to delay indefinitely the awarding of 75 new dispensary licenses that will be prioritized to so-called social equity applicants.
Pritzker had previously delayed the date to hand in applications for craft grower, infuser and transporter licenses, although the state maintains those licenses will still be doled out on July 1.
The executive order also lessened the restrictive hiring process for dispensaries, allowing new employees to begin working before receiving a badge from state regulators.
Existing pot shops are each permitted to open a second, recreational only dispensary, and the state will continue to review applications and hand out those licenses during the pandemic.
With the state’s tax revenue expected to take a hit over the coming years due to the economic downtown, Seeger predicted legislators may continue to expand the state’s cannabis industry, including weed delivery. Other states, like California, already allow delivery.
“I think with the amount of state debt that’s going to come later from this health crisis, this is going to be one of the things that’s looked at to provide some revenue,” he said. “Delivery, on-premise [consumption], just about anything to boost sales.”
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