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Recreational Weed Is Now Legal In Illinois. Here's What Happens Next

Salty Cracka via Flickr

Recreational cannabis has been legal in Illinois for just under a week, and the state estimates consumers have already bought nearly $11 million worth of product. But the legal industry is only just getting started.

Illinois’ new cannabis law specifies exactly how it will allow the budding industry to grow over the next few years. By May of this year, a state agency is expected to hand out up to 75 new dispensary licenses after reviewing applications. Expect up to another 110 licenses by December 2021 for a total of 185. An important note: not all of those will be up and running by that point, as some still have to obtain a physical location and state inspections before they can begin selling.

Then there’s cultivation centers, where cannabis is grown under strict environmental and regulatory control. Several dozen more operations will be licensed by the summer of 2021, including at least 40 small-scale "craft" growers. All told, Illinois’ growing capacity could multiply several times over in a relatively short period of time.

The new law also outlines state government's responsibility to conduct an annual demand study. Supporters say that's aimed at tightly controlling Illinois' legal supply to prevent cannabis products from spilling onto the black market.

Meanwhile, starting this fall, up to eight Illinois community colleges will be allowed to offer cannabis courses to students interested in training for a career in the industry.

Pam Althoff represents the cannabis industry. She said Illinois officials and industry reps worked closely on the timeline.

“We’re gonna watch. We’re gonna see what happens," she said. "It was not done without a great deal of thoughtful conversation.”

Toi Hutchinson, an advisor to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on cannabis control, said lawmakers intentionally capped the number of businesses to allow greater participation from minority communities.

“That is probably the one thing that didn’t happen anywhere else," Hutchinson said. "Licenses were let, and then people operated free and unfettered, and what we’re doing is trying to take this time to turn an industry around so that it actually looks like the state we all call home.”

Right now, around 30 cannabis dispensaries throughout Illinois are selling to recreational customers, and several more are expected to come online in the next few months before the first wave of new dispensaries receive their licenses.

5:30 PM Update: A previous version of this story had quoted a lower sales total, which was the most accurate number available at the time it was originally published. It has been updated to reflect current totals.

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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