If you look at a map of the U.S. that shows which states have legalized recreational marijuana, you come away with the impression of a set of bookends: a handful of states on the east coast, the entire west coast plus Nevada … and not much in between (Colorado and Michigan).
Which is why it’s so significant that Illinois just joined the ranks. The General Assembly approved a measure last month and Governor J.B. Pritzker campaigned on legalization, so his signature was considered a formality at this point but required nonetheless.
The Prairie State has made two other moves we think are admirable: first, those already holding medical dispensary licenses may submit applications for up to two additional dispensaries for recreational use. Perhaps they’ve been paying attention as California and Massachusetts have so badly dropped the ball on the distribution end of things. As a result, Illinois could potentially have over 100 dispensaries ready to roll when the law takes effect on January 1, 2020.
Second, the Illinois law has a retroactive component that will clear the record of those convicted of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana in an effort to address the perception of minorities being disproportionately punished in the past. There are also incentives for minority investors.
All of this is very significant not just because it happens in the Midwest, but because it happens in such a populous state in the Midwest. And even though a medical marijuana program was already in place, it was a fairly conservative one, with only about 70,000 participants. Legalization could represent growth of 10 to 20 times the current market … and a massive business opportunity.
And others are watching, as states like New York and New Jersey wring their hands over whether legalization requires a ballot initiative. Illinois has proven that change can happen legislatively, and the early indications are that the rollout won’t be the disaster other states have seen. Illinois could provide the road map that pushes New York and New Jersey off the fence.