Illinois began allowing recreational cannabis sales on New Year’s Day, and the experience has been enough to induce the sort of giddiness users have been known to exhibit.
Long lines confirmed a lot of pent-up demand for legal weed, and sales the first week amounted to $12.9 million — higher than (um, in excess of, we mean) the first week’s revenue in any other state. “It is a really strong indication that the market is going to be very, very healthy here,” Bethany Gomez of cannabis research firm Brightfield Group told the Tribune’s Ally Marotti. In the first 12 days, the total was $19.7 million.
The downside is that many dispensaries soon ran out of recreational supplies. Some have had to turn away customers or limit purchases.
The sales surge is reassuring in a way. It suggests that lots of people were eager to get their pot from regulated sellers, despite the higher prices, rather than from the illicit dealers who previously had the market to themselves. All those purchases yield a harvest of sales tax revenue. They should also prevent the harms to health caused by adulterated products from black-market dealers.
Hopeful indicators are no reason to get carried away, however. Illinois is conducting a large social experiment, and it will take time to find out exactly how positively or negatively it will play out. A few weeks into the legal weed era is way too early to relax the rules.
That’s why we’re relieved that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has decided not to push forward with a proposed ordinance to allow on-site consumption. In her plan, in accordance with limits in the state law, tobacco shops, hookah lounges and other such shops could let patrons smoke pot. They would have to provide appropriate ventilation in standalone buildings; they’d have to pay $4,400 for a license every two years and most of downtown Chicago would be off-limits.
The alleged problem on-site consumption would address is the shortage of places where people can smoke cannabis. Toking isn’t allowed in public places, including parks, schools, government buildings, buses, trains and anywhere minors are present. Landlords are allowed to ban it as well. Smoking of any kind is illegal in restaurants, bars, stores, theaters and most hotel rooms. The only place you can be sure of getting to blaze a blunt in peace is in a home you own.
The city has plenty to worry about right now without taking on that issue. Only two states, Alaska and Colorado, have elected to permit pot consumption sites, both recently. Illinois could benefit greatly from waiting to see their results there before deciding whether to follow suit by authorizing more establishments to allow pot smoking.
These states may find that such venues produce headaches for neighbors, as rowdy bars do. It may be that most users are content to partake in their rec rooms or on their patios. On the other hand, it may turn out that lots of people will pay to smoke weed in places designed for communal enjoyment. We just don’t know.
Learning from the experience of other states can save us from mistakes. Illinois, including Chicago, is just getting the chance to learn for itself what legal pot means. With time, we’ll find if adjustments to the rules are needed. For now, the best policy is patience.