Illinois prepares for recreational cannabis legalization on January 1, 2020

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New Year’s Day 2020 isn’t just the start of a new decade—for Illinois residents, it’s the start of legal recreational cannabis. Illinois citizens approved recreational cannabis in the spring of 2019 and have just a few weeks until legalization kicks in. 

Many of the state’s existing medical dispensaries will convert into dual-purpose dispensaries. As of writing, 29 of Illinois’ 55 dispensaries have received recreational licenses for 2020. Many of them plan to hold grand opening ceremonies complete with music, food, and fun to celebrate. 

However, medical cannabis users are uneasy about the shift to recreational cannabis. Shortages can happen in the early days of legalization, and medical users rightfully worry that shortages will block them from buying the medicine they need. Lawmakers require dispensaries to reserve products exclusively for medical use, though, so time will tell if medical users will also face shortages. 

To combat anticipated shortages, dispensaries are expanding their retail locations to include dual-purpose spaces and even smoking lounges. With the new laws taking effect soon, dispensaries will no longer need as much security, which will hopefully decrease operating costs and barriers to entry for new retail shops. With an estimated 1 million recreational cannabis customers, growers are also expanding their operations before January 1. 

Illinois stands to earn quite a lot from cannabis sales. While there’s a 10% tax on cannabis flower, edibles are taxed at 20% and any items containing more than 30% THC are taxed at 25%. Consumers must be over the age of 21 to make any recreational cannabis purchases. Out-of-state visitors can purchase recreational cannabis, but they’ll be allowed just half the amount permitted for Illinois residents. 

It’s still illegal to drive while impaired from cannabis. Customers won’t be able to consume in public, or in any area where they can be seen by others (including backyards). Universities and private landowners can also choose to ban cannabis use onsite. 

As a provision of legalization, Illinois aims to close social equity and justice gaps. Minority business owners will be given priority and more favorable deals to fund their businesses. Illinois will also expunge the records of non-violent citizens with marijuana offenses, to the tune of 770,000 expunged convictions. However, there are still concerns over racial equity, as many cannabis shop owners in Illinois are still white and male. 

Illinois has a lot of work to do in just a few short weeks. There will be a learning curve for recreational cannabis in the state, but it’s clear that it will not only enhance access to cannabis for all, but promote criminal justice reform where it’s so badly needed. 

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