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6 key takeaways from the start of recreational weed sales Demand is far higher than even experts predicted.

Chicago Sun Times

Monday, January 13, 2020  |  Article  |  Tom Schuba

Recreational Marijuana

It’s been more than a week since Illinois legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.


Here are some key takeaways:


1. Demand for legal weed in Illinois is off the charts.

In the first five days of recreational pot sales, the couple dozen dispensaries across Illinois unloaded $10.8 million worth of pot products. While the state hasn’t released numbers for the other two days of the first week, those preliminary figures already rival the numbers tallied in the first week of recreational sales in California ($14.6 million) and Oregon ($11 million), which have seen the largest rollouts thus far.


The strong showing has prompted industry research firms to revise projections for the first year of sales. While the Loop-based Brightfield Group initially predicted that recreational weed sales could hit $400 million this year, analyst Andy Seeger now estimates the total could be a half-billion dollars, or $100 million more.


“We definitely saw a strong amount of demand here. This is a rather healthy rollout,” he said.


Tom Adams, managing director of the cannabis research firm BDS analytics in Colorado, said “based on the strong start,” his firm’s June prediction that stores would sell $270 million of legal weed will be “modestly upsized” in an upcoming report.


However, both experts cautioned that other factors, including regulatory delays, shortages and high taxes, could hinder growth.


2. Customers don’t mind the long wait in the cold to get inside pot shops.

Eager to ditch his unreliable dealers for legal pot shops that offer convenience and a variety of high-quality pot products to choose from, Will Johnson wasn’t daunted by the huge line at Midway Dispensary in Vittum Park when he arrived about a half-hour before doors opened at 10 a.m. on Jan. 1.



Why not?


“You don’t gotta worry about some weed not smoking right, tasting right. You can go get it yourself,” added Johnson.


Others didn’t mind the wait for reasons that went beyond just selection and quality.


“The experience was great, even with the freezing temperatures and lack of shelter,” Eric Adams, a systems analyst for a retail company, said of the 2 1⁄2-hour wait at Verilife in his hometown of Ottawa. “It reminded me of waiting for concert tickets when I was in my teens and 20s — the experience of meeting a group of people that you have never seen before but who all were connected due to this one thing.”


3. Many customers are pleased with the shopping experience.

Adams said he was welcomed into a clean retail space staffed by employees who were both “courteous and knowledgable.”


“Each product was of very high quality and consistent with products I have seen in California on their legal market,” he said. “All in all, it was a very pleasant and professional retail experience.”


4. High prices and taxes hasn’t deterred shoppers.

Legal pot is generally far pricier than black market weed, and pot products are subject to state excise taxes between 10% and 25%, as well as state and local sales taxes. Some folks have reported handing over $80 for an eighth of an ounce of flower at some Chicago dispensaries, about twice as much as some pay on the street.


“I’m going to stick with the dispensary because I’m able to tap into more specified effects of what I’m looking for, said Dee Jefferies, a freelance journalist in West Garfield Park.


The price “really wasn’t that bad,” he said.


5. Supply issues will likely persist for months.

The state’s 21 marijuana cultivation centers simply don’t have enough product to supply the few dozen dispensaries across the state, many of which have been forced to set buying limits and even shutting down sales to recreational customers.


The increased demand for pot won’t likely be fully met for up to a year from now, according to Beau Whitney, vice president of Washington, D.C.-based New Frontier Data, a firm

that analyzes the pot market. The state currently has plans to issue up to 40 licenses to smaller craft growers by July 1.


Seeger believes the “extreme shortages” will be over in the next two to three months, but said it could take an entire year for the new program “to entirely balance itself.”


6. Chicago cops haven’t seen a spike in DUIs.

From Jan. 1-5, Chicago police had caught 49 people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. That’s up slightly from the first whole week of 2019, when there were 48 total cases.


Because there’s no reliable technology to test whether a driver is high, those figures take into account all cases of impaired driving. Nevertheless, Guglielmi noted that “there hasn’t been a spike in auto accidents or any types of impaired arrests that we can link to the consumption of cannabis.”