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Boom time for marijuana sales in Illinois, as industry expands with new products

While 2021 was a boom time for legal marijuana sales in Illinois, it was another wasted year for minority entrepreneurs trying to break into the business, and a mixed experience for customers.

Recreational cannabis retail sales continued to climb steadily this year, to more than $1.2 billion, roughly an 85% increase from 2020 through November of this year alone. The medical cannabis program reached 136,000 active patients, who spent another $362 million. The sales generated more than $300 million in tax revenue in fiscal year 2021 — more than from alcohol.

But after new applicants waited through more than a year of delays for business licenses, judges prevented them from opening dispensaries while litigation dragged on, with no solution in sight.

The year saw many new twists in the cannabis field. Sales took off for hemp-derived Delta-8 THC, called “weed light,” despite existing in a legal gray area. Huge multistate companies gobbled up independent dispensaries and expanded dramatically. In one constant, prices of marijuana in Illinois remained among the highest in the nation. While cannabis remains illegal under federal law, proposals to decriminalize it or let banks finance it have been slowly gaining some support among lawmakers.

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