The marijuana industry is “recession-proof” and “pandemic-proof,” the top cannabis regulator in Illinois said in a recent interview.
Toi Hutchinson, the state’s marijuana czar, discussed the legal economy during a recent interview with a Canopy Growth executive that was published on Tuesday, emphasizing that Illinois is seeing record cannabis sales month over month despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“The biggest surprise I think for people is that we were waiting to see whether cannabis sales would be impacted by COVID. And we’ve proven here in Illinois, even with our small program, that it’s recession-proof and it’s pandemic-proof,” she said. “Our numbers in terms of our sales have been just through the roof.”
She said that while they weren’t sure how the program would be received when sales launched in January, “it landed like thunder heard around the world because, even when we were preparing for any anger or any cynicism or any political fights we had to put out, you saw happy people standing in line, giving each other hot chocolate and food trucks pulling up and lines around the block that was sustained through really, really heavy winter Chicago days all the way up and down through the state.”
Winter may be over, but that demand has not subsided, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Illinois reported nearly $61 million in adult-use cannabis sales for July—smashing the previous record set in June of nearly $47 million.
But while the state is encouraged by the sales and tax revenue, Hutchinson emphasized that “we were not doing this to make as much money as fast as we possibly could” but instead “we were actually doing this for people,” with a focus on social equity for communities most impacted by the drug war.
“If we really were looking at this for the economic boom, we probably would be seeing a lot more money entering into the state as a result of this,” Hutchinson said. “What we decided to do was have an equity principle at every single measure of this program.”
— Canopy Growth (@CanopyGrowth) August 21, 2020
In May, the state announced that it was making available $31.5 million in restorative justice grants funded by marijuana tax revenue. Prior to implementation, Gov. J. B. Pritzker (D) pardoned more than 11,000 people with prior marijuana convictions.
Interestingly, Hutchinson also seemed to reference the therapeutic potential of plant-based medicines more broadly during the interview. While she didn’t explicitly discuss any specific psychedelics, there’s growing interest across the country in broadening access to entheogenic substances like psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
“We’re really close to finding all kinds of new things, all kinds of new treatments for ailments that have bothered people for so long—for chronic pain, for cancer research, for epileptic seizures, for all kinds of things that the people of this country deserve to have research to show and deserve to have resources and money and things like that go into figuring out plant-based medicine,” she said. “That is an incredibly exciting time.”
Over in Oregon, officials have been witnessing a similar marijuana sales trend amid the global health crisis. Data released in May showed sales of adult-use cannabis products were up 60 percent.