Illinois' Marijuana Industry Isn’t Slowing Down, Even During The Coronavirus Pandemic | St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois' Marijuana Industry Isn’t Slowing Down, Even During The Coronavirus Pandemic

May 5, 2020

Businesses across the country are losing sales because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Illinois recreational marijuana dispensaries are not. 

The state on Monday announced consumers bought more than $37 million of recreational cannabis in April.

Dispensaries had their second-best month in April, outpacing February and March, when there were fewer or no coronavirus restrictions

“I think these numbers are very encouraging,” said Bethany Gomez, managing director at Brightfield Group, a market research firm that tracks the legal cannabis industry. “The fact that the market wasn’t shaken off its track by a global pandemic that had every resident in the state staying home is a strong indication that there is pent-up demand.”

The supply issues the state continues to face are hampering growth of the industry more than the coronavirus, she said.

“Even when the entire state is locked down, [dispensaries are] selling through essentially everything they can get on shelf,” Gomez said.

Marijuana dispensaries and other parts of the industry are deemed “essential” under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which has contributed to sales, said Michael Perlman, executive vice president of investor relations and treasurer at Jushi Holdings, which owns dispensaries in Sauget and Normal.

“Our stores continue to perform well, and demand for products was fairly consistent with the prior month,” he said.

The pandemic happened to coincide with the launch of the company's new website for online ordering, which shows what marijuana products are available at individual dispensaries, Perlman said.

“It makes the whole entire shopping experience much more efficient,” he said. “Being able to see a menu and view our inventory in real time and being able to order and pick it up in the store in a matter of minutes is a big deal.” 

The stores can more easily manage the limited product they have when customers come pick it up, Perlman explained. Now, customers spend minutes to pick up their marijuana instead of sometimes hours waiting in line.

Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville only offers online ordering right now, where customers select a time window to pick up their order.

This newfound efficiency upends the way the legal marijuana industry had been operating since 2014, when Colorado and Washington began legal sales, Gomez said.

“Even though the world had been trending more toward ecommerce, in cannabis there’s really a lot to be said about people wanting to see products, feel products and smell them and explore,” she said.

Cannabis companies have relied on the workers in dispensaries to recommend different products to customers, but online ordering removes that interaction, Gomez said.

“It reiterates the need for brands to market themselves and connect directly with consumers, because they can’t really rely on branches to do that for them anymore,” she said.

COVID-19’s lasting implications

During the coronavirus outbreak, every state with a legal cannabis market deemed it critical, Gomez said.

“It’s a really big win for the industry that it has gone from illegal to essential in a matter of weeks,” she said. 

In Illinois, the state also started to let dispensaries offer curbside pickup for medical patients, when before they couldn’t sell marijuana outside of their physical establishments. Perlman said he hopes dispensaries will be able to continue doing this after the COVID-19 restrictions lift.

“All the dispensaries are showing that they can handle the additional ways of catering to our customers,” Perlman said. 

When state and local economies start to reopen, Gomez predicts legal marijuana will be a cornerstone, especially in Illinois. 

“As the state starts to get COVID under control more, there will be a very distinct look at budgeting and a need for additional revenue sources,” she said. 

Gomez expects legal marijuana will be one of the consistent revenue sources the state leans on and pushes to develop when its economy reopens. 

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

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