ILLINOIS (IRN) — There’s a new demand study for recreational marijuana that the medical pot industry says shows current licensees can handle the extra demand.
Pam Althoff with Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois says numbers they’ve reviewed indicate it will take five years for the marketplace to level off, were lawmakers to pass legislation legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use. She said the first two years of that can be met by the current medical cannabis production and distribution licensees.
In an update earlier this month from the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, the Illinois Department of Public Health says there are 55 licensed dispensaries that so far in 2019 have sold $26.8 million worth of cannabis. The total sales since the program began in November 2015 is $286.9 million.
Reacting to those who say the the medical pot industry is trying to protect their carve out, Althoff said they’re looking for incremental expansion.
“[We] don’t want to see what happened in Oregon, what originally happened in California, with an overglut and very under-regulated product and program,” Althoff, a former state senator, said.
Kelvin McCabe with the Illinois Chapter of NORML conducted a different demand study and he expects a drastic spike in the number of consumers, from 30,000 for medical to an additional 770,000 for recreational.
“And we don’t want to have shortages, and we don’t want medical patients to run out,” McCabe said.
There would need to be hundreds more licensed sellers and growers to fulfill the recreational needs, he said.
Althoff understands the concern, but said the current industry will be able to fulfill the demand for the first two years.
“There is a lot of square footage that has already been approved [for the Illinois’ medical cannabis pilot program] by the state of Illinois that is not yet in use,” Althoff said. “It’s there. It’s ready. But it’s not yet in use.”
Regardless of how lawmakers proceed forward with recreational use regulations, there will be more jobs. The question is how many?
Chris Stone with medical cannabis dispensary HCI Alternatives with locations in Springfield and Collinsville said they currently employ about 50 people for the medical dispensary operations.
“I could see that number approaching 100 if there’s a recreational program in place and that’s just at the dispensary side,” Stone said. “Think about what we could do at the cultivation side too. By the end of this year at the cultivation side we’ll have 55 employees. With a recreational program, within two years you’re probably looking at somewhere around 150 employees.”
But McCabe said more growers and sellers licenses won’t only help with the demand, it will also create more jobs.
“If you keep it for just 20 licensed cultivators, the number of jobs even if they expand are not going to even get close to if you add 1,500 more,” McCabe said. “Again, it’s based on scale. The more licenses you have, the more businesses you have, the more jobs you create.”
There’s still no movement at the statehouse on any measures to legalize pot for adult recreational use.