Recreational marijuana supplies are limited on the first day of legal sales in any state. Above, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, in Leicester, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Illinois dispensaries will run out of legal cannabis, and that’s OK.
Tens of thousands of marijuana consumers are expected to make a run on limited amounts of legal herb in Illinois on January 1. Shortages are almost certain, industry members conclude. The question is how long will they last? The answer: at least 60 days.
“We’re kind of considering this a soft launch,” said Jason Erkes for the Sunnyside dispensaries of Illinois.
“Our goal is not to immediately deliver as much access to recreational cannabis as possible as quickly as possible,” Gov. JB Pritzker said at a signing statement for the new law in June.
Why Illinois dispensaries will run low on legal cannabis
Time to grow
The state did not quickly give legal growers permission to grow enough cannabis for Illinois’ total demand, which amounts to 714,161 pounds per year.
Illinois has under two dozen farms for a medical marijuana program that swelled to almost 100,000 patients in 2019. Now, here comes an estimated ten times that amount of adult-use cannabis consuming state residents–plus tourists
“We’re already seeing that supply is not sufficient,” said Danielle Schumacher, an Illinois resident and caregiver who also works as a cannabis industry recruiter.
Officials are rapidly issuing new cannabis farm licenses—but even then, it takes about 120 days for a cannabis plant to reach maturity. Then you’ve got to harvest, dry, cure, trim, and package it, which takes at least three weeks. That’s a 141-day cycle, at minimum.
“It’s an agricultural product–what can we do? You can’t grow it any faster, it’s not Monsanto and that’s not what we want to do,” said Chicago NORML Executive Director Edie Moore.
“By spring we expect this program to be fully up and running,” said Erkes.
Illinois has nearly 13 million people and about 950,000 cannabis consumers. Each licensed store could see about 1,000 customers on its first day, spending about $100 per visit, many operators report.
Even with taxes as running an average of 26.25%, wealthier shoppers will pay for access to legal, tested supplies, plus the novelty of buying it. Demand promises to be strong on launch day and beyond.
Also, Illinois is surrounded by prohibition states on all sides, and its state line is a busy one, with 195,000 daily out-of-state residents commuting in for work and more making day-trips to Chicago. The Illinois Office of Tourism recorded 114 million visitors to Illinois in 2017.
“I cross state lines at least once a week,” said Moore.
In 2014, I met Michiganders who traveled as far as Denver for their legal cannabis launch. They were medical tourists.
On the other hand, Illinois has adequate illicit market supplies of cannabis, said Moore. “If they want to be, they’re already getting high.”
“There’s definitely some really established underground brands. They deliver, and it’s quality, too,” said Schumacher.
What will Illinois dispensaries carry?
Initially, dispensaries will have most types of cannabis products you’d find in California and most other adult-use markets—there’s dried cured flower buds, vape pens, infused food and drinks, tinctures, and topicals.
“I found a massive selection and decent prices,” said Schumacher. “I’m used to California prices, though.”
During the first few weeks, expect the flower selection, and entry-level items like pre-rolls to sell out. Medical formulations, or higher-priced items might persist for longer.
Many dispensaries licensed for both adult-use and medical sales may go medical-only in the early weeks, in order to meet state mandates to ensure patient supplies. This may drive a small bump in Illinoisans getting medical cannabis cards.
“Whether it will be bare shelves, I doubt that. But you may have a hard time finding what you’re looking for during the first six months,” said Moore.
Will Illinois dispensaries have purchase limits?
Many stores will set purchase limits set below the legal amount to stretch supplies. Others might only sell eighth ounces of flower instead of large amounts to stretch supplies.
“There are major supply constraints in Illinois right now,” said Kris Krane for Mission Illinois, the only dispensary open Jan. 1 on the South Side of Chicago. “We want to make sure we don’t have to close our doors on day one.”
“We want to make sure everybody can get something,” said Jason for Sunnyside dispensaries, which will be open at 6 a.m. Jan. 1 in Chicago.
Are Illinois medical patient supplies protected?
Regulations call for maintaining a three-week supply for patients—but what counts as three weeks, or supplies is up for debate.
Illinois patients were already facing shortages before the roll-out and should expect a more limited selection in the New Year.
“It’s going to be a supply-constrained market for a while,” said Krane.
“Things will level out,” said Moore. “I think people just need to give themselves a little time.”