With lawmakers voting last week to lift the ban on recreational pot, Illinoisans will likely be able to start buying marijuana by the start of the new year. But where will those pot shops be located?
Operators of Illinois’ 55 medical dispensaries — 11 of which are in Chicago — will have first crack at selling recreational weed should Gov. J.B. Pritzker make good on his vow to sign the legalization bill into law. Those firms will have the option to both convert their existing locations into dual-use dispensaries and open a second storefront dedicated solely to recreational pot sales.
Representatives for three firms that own medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state said this week that their companies plan to take advantage of the opportunity. All three have recently expanded or renovated some of their existing cannabis facilities.
Mark de Souza — CEO of Elmhurst-based Revolution Enterprises, which owns a north suburban dispensary and a downstate cultivation center — said he expects all of the state’s medical dispensary operators to seize the opportunity to start selling recreational pot.
“Hopefully on Jan. 1 we will have more outlets available,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who played a key part in crafting the legislation. “It was very clear to us that 55 storefronts was going to be insufficient to serve demand, and this was the quickest way to get more doors open.”
As part of the early approval process — aimed at ensuring that dispensaries are open and stocked with marijuana when sales kick off — existing dispensaries can pony up $30,000 to apply for a license to sell both medical and recreational weed at a single location. The dispensary will then have to pay $100,000 or 3% of its yearly sales to the cannabis business development fund, which will help subsidize licensing fees and loans for people of color looking to get into the industry.
Medical pot shop operators can also obtain an additional license to dole out recreational marijuana at another location by paying another $30,000 application fee and putting $200,000 more into the business development fund. Those licenses will require zoning approval from local governments and can’t be located within 1,500 feet of any existing dispensaries, among other regulations.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s most recent annual report on the program, Dispensary 33 in Uptown served the most medical cannabis patients in the state. Abigail Watkins, director of marketing for Dispensary 33, said the store now intends to seek both new recreational pot licenses.
Watkins noted that the dispensary has recently made some major changes, including redesigning counters to help accommodate twice as many customers and installing new display cases that can show off more pot products.
“We wanted to expand in hopes that this bill would pass soon,” she added. “It just passed a little sooner than we thought. But that’s a good thing.”
Cresco Labs, a River North-based company that has five medical dispensaries and three cultivation centers in Illinois, plans to convert all of its current retail spaces in the state into dual-use stores and open five standalone recreational cannabis dispensaries. Because the pot legalization bill will only allow individual companies to operate ten total dispensaries and three cultivation centers, the multi-state firm won’t be able to obtain any further licenses after that.
Jason Erkes, a spokesman for Cresco’ estimates that Cresco could double its Illinois workforce and hire up to 300 new employees to help grow and sell recreational pot in the state.
De Souza, who expects Revolution to create 365 new jobs, confirmed that his company would be seeking licenses to sell recreational cannabis at its New Age Care dispensary in Mount Prospect and another location.
He noted that construction is underway to expand waiting and counter areas at the dispensary and separate lines for medical and recreational patients. Nevertheless, he said Revolution is more focused on growing marijuana than selling it, noting that it would be “difficult for us to compete” with other Illinois pot firms that have been more focused on retail since the state’s medical program was established.
Existing growers of medical marijuana will also have the opportunity to opt into the recreational program and begin growing additional pot in the lead-up to the implementation of the legalization bill. Revolution has already started expanding its cultivation center in Delavan, shelling out more than $100 million to build a new facility adjacent to its existing grow operation.
“Our goal is to be one of the high-integrity supply chain providers for retailers,” de Souza said.