Illinois’ high times keep rolling amid coronavirus pandemic as recreational pot sales top $37 million in April

The total trails only the $39.2 million worth of adult-use cannabis unloaded by dispensaries in January, the first month the drug was legalized for recreational use.

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All told, nearly 819,000 recreational pot products were sold in April.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

As Illinois’ economy has come to a screeching halt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, recreational weed has remained a hot commodity with sales topping $37 million last month.

April’s nearly $37.3 million in sales trails only the $39.2 million worth of adult-use cannabis sold by pot shops in January, the first month the drug was legalized for recreational use, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Since the start of the year, Illinois dispensaries have sold over $147 million in recreational cannabis.

Though many businesses have been forced to temporarily shut their doors as officials look to quell the spread of the new coronavirus, both recreational and medical pot sales were deemed essential. To encourage social distancing at stores, new rules have been put in place requiring shoppers to stand six feet apart and allowing curbside pickup for medical pot patients and their designated caregivers through the end of the month.

“Our top priority is to ensure consumers are safe when they go to a dispensary to purchase cannabis,” said Toi Hutchinson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s senior adviser for cannabis control. “The steps we’ve taken to increase social distancing at dispensaries are accomplishing that, while also enabling this new industry to continue to grow.”

While the distancing guidance has forced dispensaries to serve less shoppers at once and shut down registers if necessary, demand for recreational weed has remained high.

Illinois residents bought up $29.7 million of the adult-use cannabis sold in April, while the rest was purchased by out-of-staters, according to the IDFPR. All told, nearly 819,000 recreational pot products were sold over the course of the month.

The latest sales figures come days after Pritzker announced he was pushing back the date for issuing the next round of 75 recreational dispensary licenses — the first prioritized for the so-called social equity candidates given a leg-up in the process in an effort to bolster minority participation in the state’s overwhelmingly white pot industry. Those licenses were initially expected to be issued on Friday, and a new deadline hasn’t been set.

With sales continuing to boom, some applicants like Dan Pettigrew, a Hyde Park resident who co-owns the largest black-owned cannabis firm, fear the delay will give the state’s current pot shop operators an even greater advantage.

“That situation has nothing to do with coronavirus,” said Pettigrew.

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