Metro-East News

Marijuana sellers prep for influx of customers after Illinois officially legalizes weed

Come Jan. 1, 2020, Scott Abbott, the chief operating officer of HCI Alternatives, a dispensary for medical marijuana, expects to see a lot more customers at its Collinsville and Springfield locations now that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed legislation making marijuana legal for recreational use.

The company has spent about $50,000 during the last month on renovations to accommodate the increased traffic.

“The flow is a lot better now. Patients that are here now, they like it, and we know any new customers and purchasers coming in (for recreational use) will like the layout as well,” said Abbott.

The medical marijuana dispensary plans to sell recreational weed too at the beginning of the new year to Illinois residents over the age of 21. Illinois became the 11th state in the country to make it legal.

Pritzker on Tuesday touted the bill as a “equity-centric,” saying the state’s previous policy on marijuana disproportionately hurt black and brown communities.

“Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do,” Pritzker said Tuesday prior to signing the bill.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said at the Chicago bill signing the policy change brings “justice, equity and opportunity” throughout the state.

“By including components focused on repairing the harm caused by the failed war on drugs and decades of policies that caused mass incarceration — Illinois is national leader with policy that’s a national model,” Stratton said.

Illinois joins Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., as places that allow recreational marijuana.

Illinois residents would be allowed to possess any combination of 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, and 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product. Non-residents will be able to possess half of those amounts. No one will be allowed to transport marijuana across state lines.

Marijuana revenue in the state

Any marijuana with 35% or lower THC will be taxed at 10% of the purchase price. Anything above 35% THC, will be taxed at 25%. A cannabis-infused product will be taxed at 20% of the purchase price.

Money generated from taxing recreational marijuana would be split among different uses, including law enforcement, helping with the state’s budget, the bill backlog, substance abuse programs, helping high-need and underserved communities, and public education and safety campaigns.

By the summer 2020, there can be an additional 75 dispensaries in the state, with up to four dispensaries in the St. Louis-area; one in the Carbondale-Marion area, and two in the non-metropolitan areas in Southern Illinois.

By the end of 2021, up to an additional 110 dispensaries will be allowed to open.

People arrested, but not convicted of, possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana will have that record expunged. The governor’s office also will grant pardons for people convicted of possessing up to 30 grams.

Under the law, individuals and state’s attorneys may file motions with courts to vacate convictions for possession of up to 500 grams of marijuana.

Marijuana convictions connected with a violent crime are ineligible for the automatic expungement, but a state’s attorney can still request the conviction be vacated, the governor’s office said.

The state also plans to have programs at eight community colleges — five of which will be at community colleges with an enrollment of more than 50 percent low income students — to prepare students to study and grow live cannabis plants and learn careers in the legal cannabis industry.

Those programs are expected to be started in time for the 2021-22 academic year, said Krysta Lisser, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture. Which community colleges will be able run those programs is yet to be determined pending development rules from the Department of Agriculture and Community College Board.

There’s also a social equity program to promote minority involvement in the marijuana industry, and to give participants access to grants and loans in order to help cover some of the upfront costs of participating in the market.

“We applaud the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pritzker on this resounding victory for personal liberty, racial justice, and common sense,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “MPP was honored to work hand-in-hand with elected leaders to craft a law ending cannabis prohibition, in a way that begins to remedy the devastation of communities targeted by the war on drugs. Illinois’ focus on fairness and equity in legalization should be a model for other states.”

Medical marijuana to continue

Residents who are participating in the medical marijuana program, will be able to grow up to five marijuana plants at home under the plan.

They will plan to sell both medical and recreational weed at the current Collinsville location and hope to build a recreational only shop, but a location has yet to be determined.

“We want to make sure we’re getting buildings finished and ready to go as soon after the first as we can,” Abbott said.

New patients with medical cards would still have a consultation process, telling them about different strains and the effects and how it would help your medical condition. That won’t change, Abbott said.

Abbott said rules and regulations from the state will still need to be formulated, but he believes there will be in a separate bank of cases for medical patients, and one bank of cases for recreational purchases.

HCI plans to maintain its private areas for medical consultations, even if it’s not mandated by state rules and regulations.

“That way those conversations can be had in relative seclusion and they could have some privacy so they could have those conversations for whatever medical ailment they’re trying to treat,” Abbott said.

But why continue to have a medical program, when anyone over 21 will be able to buy? The general assembly passed legislation to make the medical marijuana program permanent and added conditions for which people would qualify to use the drug.

Recreational marijuana will be taxed at a higher rate than people who use medical marijuana to help treat conditions authorized by the state.

Abbott said it would be worth it to patients to pay for a medical card in order to save money on taxes paid on the marijuana.

“We’ve told our patients, and continue to tell them, and if they have friends, if they have a qualifying condition, we’re recommending to them to continue renewing that card because based on their condition and based on what they’re buying that tax difference, that card could pay for itself after three or four visits,” Abbott said.

Abbott said even though recreational marijuana is illegal in most states, people are still able to get it on the streets.

“A number of arguments can be made, but at the end of the day, … we’ve seen time and time again where prohibition doesn’t work,” Abbott said. “If you know people for sure are going to try to get cannabis, I would prefer they give them a safe place, where it’s tested, where it’s controlled, there’s no unintended consequence of violence or rip offs that are going to take place and at the end of the day, if you’re taxing it, there’s benefits for it. I think this is going to give people a safer environment to get cannabis if they’re going to choose to consume.”

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.