Cannabis Drinks Expo to Hit Chicago and San Francisco

The cannabis drinks market is among the fastest-growing industries, and now there are events that represent that rapid growth. Hosted by the Beverage Trade Network, the 2022 Cannabis Drinks Expo will kick off next month and spotlight the legal cannabis market and provide insight into the true potential for business, according to a June 20 press release.

Expo themes include increasing the overall category list by showcasing successful exhibitors, creating networking opportunities, and exploring current “multi-state bottlenecks.”

So why all the buzz? The global cannabis beverages market is predicted to grow from $503.58 million in 2020 to $2958.60 million by 2028, representing a CAGR of 24.5% during the forecast period of 2021-2028. This includes the psychoactive drinks as well as hemp-infused drinks. Beyond cannabis alone, the beverage sector is experiencing radical change in and of itself with a push towards wellness drinks with natural ingredients.

The show will have an international and national focus that offers multistate operators synergistic opportunities to do business with each other.

Cannabis Drinks Expo provides the cannabis and drinks industry with a unique platform to expand business, explore the category, and source amazing brands. The theme for the 2022 show is “Growing the Category.”

Drink makers could use the boost of visibility in a competitive playing field. At the expo, you’re likely to find the full spectrum of brands.

“The Cannabis Drinks Expo offers brands like mine a view into a very early stage waltz,” famed Master-Mixologist Warren Bobrow told High Times. Bobrow is also known as “the Cocktail Whisperer,” who is behind the made-to-drink cannabis-infused beverage Klaus. “Two steps forward. One back. Two forward one back, and networking with those you can’t meet on [LinkedIn] nor Instagram.”

While other cannabis drink brands are focused on sweet ingredients, Bobrow is instead more interested in the refined ingredients that make his terpene-forward drink Klaus. His drinks list ingredients such as Picketts ginger syrup and fine fruit extracts sourced from France. It’s also designed to kick in fast, making it a viable alternative to other recreational delivery systems.

The expo also picked up the attention of local media outlets. “From hemp-based sports drinks to cocktails that get you high, science has finally cracked the code to making cannabis beverages that don’t taste awful,” reported Jonathan Bloom for NBC Bay Area News.

The world of cannabis drinks can get confusing fast, which is why part of the program is designed to make things easier to understand. At the expo, experts will be available to clarify and explain the process of infused foods while industry panels will go over facts to demystify the cannabis-infused beverages procedure. Top names in the cannabis industry will offer a full day of presentations, which have not yet all been announced. Attendees can also browse the expo floor and connect with companies on the cutting-edge of the industry.

Exhibitors will include medical cannabis producers, growers, cannabis producers, product developers, processors, distributors/transporters, wineries, breweries, distilleries, branded drinks companies, drinks manufacturers, Pharma companies, equipment and service providers, CBD manufacturers, edibles providers, testing and laboratory services, logistics, and supply chain operators, drinks distributors/wholesalers, drinks importers, lobbyists/public affairs businesses, and political advisors.

Fortunately, the expo is being provided in California as well as Illinois with two events. Check below for individual events times and places.

San Francisco: July 28, 2022, South San Francisco Conference Center, 255 South Airport Boulevard, South San Francisco, California 94080.

Chicago: August 2, 2022, Midwest Conference Center, 401 W. Lake St., Northlake, Illinois 60164.

Visitor Registration is open, so get your passes now to save on tickets. Click below to register as a trade show visitor:

San Francisco Tickets  

Chicago Tickets 

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Illinois Announces Plans for 185 New Dispensary Licenses

The state of Illinois on Friday announced plans to award 185 new dispensary licenses for its adult-use cannabis program, less than a month after a judge cleared the way for the process to begin anew.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said that the licenses will be awarded in “three waves” of lotteries this summer, and that the “pace of licensing will be determined by how quickly applicants’ compliance checks can be verified.”

“Today marks the beginning of the next chapter of the most equitable adult-use cannabis program in the country,” Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said in a statement on Friday. “After signing the most equity-centered program in the country into law, expunging thousands of low-level cannabis convictions, and investing tens of millions of dollars in cannabis proceeds in communities failed by the war on drugs, we are about to more than double the number of adult use cannabis dispensaries in Illinois. This means countless more opportunities for communities that have suffered from historic disinvestment to join this growing industry and ensure its makeup reflects the diversity of our state.”

The announcement on Friday was made possible by a ruling late last month from Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Mullen, who lifted a stay on new recreational cannabis dispensary licenses that had lasted nearly a year. 

The courts had issued an injunction on new licenses while it considered from parties who said they were wrong excluded from previous lotteries.

According to the Chicago Tribune, “Black and Latino applicants have complained they have been unfairly kept out of the legal cannabis business in Illinois, where just 21 licenses for full-size growers have been issued, almost entirely to white owners, several of whom have come to dominate the industry nationally.”

In March, Pritzker’s administration announced “rules to simplify the cannabis dispensary license application process, remove barriers for social equity applicants, and expand opportunities targeted to the communities most impacted by the failed war on drugs.”

“From day one, Illinois has been dedicated to leading the nation in an equity-centric approach to legalizing cannabis, and these proposed changes to the application process will make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses.” Pritzker, a Democrat, said at the time. “I appreciate all the feedback we have received from stakeholders since the start of the cannabis program, whose work informed this proposal and is continuing to make Illinois’ growing cannabis industry the most equitable in the nation.”

Mario Treto, Jr., Acting Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said at the time that the state is “committed to an inclusive and equitable cannabis program that continues to build on its successes while also recognizing and taking steps to improve it further.”

The state said Friday that to “ensure fairness for all applicants and correct any errors in the lottery process, [Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation] has also announced its plans to conduct three corrective lotteries in June (one for each of the cannabis dispensary license lotteries held in 2021).”

“We recognize this is a long-awaited day by many seeking to join the most diverse and inclusive adult use cannabis industry of any state and IDFPR is prepared to take the next steps forward together,” Treto said in a press release on Friday. “Our agency is ready to work with applicants throughout the next stage so they may obtain their licenses and join Illinois’ robust adult use cannabis industry.”

The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said Friday that it will issue conditional licenses in three lottery waves beginning on or before July 22.

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Illinois Judge Lifts Injunction on Issuing Cannabis Dispensary Licenses

An Illinois judge last week lifted an injunction that barred the state from issuing licenses for recreational pot retailers after a delay that claimed the better part of a year. The ruling from Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Mullen potentially clears the way for state regulators to issue 185 licenses for adult-use cannabis dispensaries, although further legal action could put the process on hold again.

Mullen ordered the stay on issuing new licenses for recreational dispensaries last year after lawsuits against the process were filed by applicants who alleged that they were unfairly excluded from lotteries to award the permits. State cannabis regulators have since authorized a new lottery process to give the plaintiffs another chance to win a license.

Mullen lifted the stay on Friday, clearing the way for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) to award the 185 conditional adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses held up by the order to applicants selected in three lotteries that were held in 2021. In a statement released by the agency after the ruling, the IDFPR said that it would release detailed information on the next steps applicants must take after receiving guidance in a related case in federal court.

“Today is a key development toward our ultimate goal of creating the most diverse, inclusive, and robust adult use cannabis industry of any state in the country,” IDFPR secretary Mario Treto Jr. said in a statement from the agency. “We stand ready to swiftly move forward in ensuring Illinois’ standing as a national leader in the advancement of cannabis equity.”

Creating an Equitable Cannabis Industry in Illinois

Black and Latino entrepreneurs had argued that the state’s process for issuing adult-use cannabis licenses has failed to produce a regulated weed industry that reflects Illinois’ diversity. Under state law, the first 75 dispensary licenses were supposed to be awarded two years ago. But problems with scoring the applications resulted in only 21 applicants out of 700 qualifying to participate in a lottery to award the licenses.

Mullen lifted the stay after one of the plaintiffs in the litigation, WAH Group LLC, asked the court to end the ban on issuing new licenses. The company has won the rights to three licenses, making lifting the ban advantageous to the plaintiff.

Ryan Holz, an attorney who represents other businesses that have also won licenses and some applicants who were excluded from lotteries, praised the judge’s decision to lift the stay.

“People are super excited to move forward,” Holz told the Chicago Tribune.

But he warned that additional businesses left out of previous lotteries may ask for a new injunction. And in its request to the court, WAH Group noted that Cook County Judge Celia Gamrath has said that a separate cannabis business licensing case could take months or years of litigation to resolve.

In March, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that the IDFPR would be enacting new rules to simplify the dispensary application process and remove barriers for social equity applicants. Noting that the agency is required to issue another 50 recreational weed dispensary licenses by the end of the year, the governor’s office said that the “Pritzker Administration is committed to ensuring the new legal cannabis industry reflects the diversity of the state.”

“From day one, Illinois has been dedicated to leading the nation in an equity-centric approach to legalizing cannabis, and these proposed changes to the application process will make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses,” Pritzker said at the time. “I appreciate all the feedback we have received from stakeholders since the start of the cannabis program, whose work informed this proposal and is continuing to make Illinois’ growing cannabis industry the most equitable in the nation.”

The IDFPR noted in its statement last week that the department is working to finalize plans for three corrective lotteries to award cannabis business licenses, one for each of the lotteries held in 2021, that are scheduled for next month. Details on those lotteries will be released on the agency’s website once plans are finalized.

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Illinois Attorney’s Office Reaches Over 15,000 Cannabis Expungements

Over two years have passed since the state of Illinois legalized recreational cannabis, and over 15,000 cannabis-related expungements have now been completed. 

Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) announced on April 20 that it had finalized their goal to complete the Cannabis Expungement Project, an effort that sought to cleanse Illinois residents’ records of any cannabis-related crimes. Leader of this effort, Attorney Kim Foxx, shared on Twitter that on April 22, the office would be presenting an additional 214 cases to be auto-expunged, for a total of 15,191, thus concluding the project.

Foxx also released a statement addressing the importance of working on expungement programs. “Felony charges can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from jobs to housing, long after the debt to society has been paid,” Foxx said. “I am proud that by working with advocates, Code for America, the Chief Judge’s Office, the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court, and the Illinois State Police we were able to bring relief for so many individuals so that they, their families, and their communities can move forward.”

There are still a final 588 cannabis-related cases, some of which go back to 1965, that do not have enough data for immediate expungement. In a press release, the CCSAO noted that they are working with the state to examine those cases in closer detail. 

Overall, Foxx added “[T]his is so much more than conviction relief for thousands of individuals. This is about rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system.”

Foxx began exploring what would be necessary to seek out expungement back in April 2019. In June 2019, Governor J. B. Pritzker signed the state’s recreational cannabis law, which also immediately expunged 800,000 residents whose records were marked with small scale cannabis possession. 

In August 2019, Foxx and the CCSAO announced their collaboration with Code for America to begin expungement for any case possession charges up to 30 grams. “It is prosecutors who were part of the War on Drugs, we were part of a larger ecosystem that believed that in the interest of public safety, that these were convictions that were necessary to gain,” Foxx said. “In the benefit of hindsight and looking at the impact of the War on Drugs, it is also prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we are righting the wrongs of the past.”

Foxx filed the first motions for expungement on December 2019 to proactively begin the process through the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. Shortly after, the pandemic caused court closures that didn’t resume until later in 2020. 

At the time, some local police were not supportive of clearing cannabis convictions from people’s records. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham (which back then, managed over 10,000 officers in Chicago) expressed his opposition to freeing people from their past convictions. “Even if the law changes, that does not change the fact that these people knew they were breaking the law, were arrested and convicted once again disregarding the hard work of police officers, who may have been injured while apprehending these offenders,” he said in 2019. 

Graham is no longer in that position as of 2020, when he lost the bid for reelection and was replaced by former President John Catanzara in 2020 (who later resigned in November 2021). Graham was suspended for three years in 2020 after a hidden camera was left in Catanzara’s office.

The Illinois cannabis industry has come a long way, and its success has been seen in sales data that has continually increased over time. In 2021, Illinois cannabis sales doubled in comparison to revenue collected in 2020. An Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation report shared that recreational sales reached $669 million in 2020, and $1,379,088,278 during 2021.

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Activists in Illinois Call for Fairness in Dispensary License Process

Rally-goers this week “called for a fairer process to get a marijuana dispensary license in Illinois,” according to local news reports.

Local television station WLS reported that a group gathered Tuesday at the Thompson Center in Chicago to raise objections after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a lottery earlier this month to award 50 new adult-use cannabis licenses in the state in an effort to “expand opportunities targeted to the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.”

The station reported that the group that organized the rally, known as True Social Equity in Cannabis, “don’t want a lottery to decide who can create a cannabis business in their neighborhood.”

“We are tired of waiting. No more caps, no more lotteries, no more games,” said Jose Lumbreras, one of the rally-goers, as quoted by WLS.

Pritzker’s office announced the forthcoming lottery earlier this month, saying that the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) would be “filing rules to simplify the cannabis dispensary license application process, remove barriers for social equity applicants, and expand opportunities targeted to the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.”

The department, the governor’s office said at the time, is required by the state’s new cannabis law to “to issue at least 50 new adult use cannabis dispensary licenses by the end of 2022.”

“From day one, Illinois has been dedicated to leading the nation in an equity-centric approach to legalizing cannabis, and these proposed changes to the application process will make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses.” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement at the time. “I appreciate all the feedback we have received from stakeholders since the start of the cannabis program, whose work informed this proposal and is continuing to make Illinois’ growing cannabis industry the most equitable in the nation.”

In the press release earlier this month, the Pritzker administration touted that “the new legal cannabis industry reflects the diversity of the state,” saying that: “100% of craft grow, infuser, and transporter licensee applicants managed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture qualified as social equity applicants”; “67% of said applicants live in areas disproportionately impacted by the failed War on Drugs”; “15% have been personally involved with the justice system”; and “five percent have a family member involved with the justice system.”

“We are committed to an inclusive and equitable cannabis program that continues to build on its successes while also recognizing and taking steps to improve it further,” Mario Treto, Jr., the acting secretary of the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said earlier this month. “We look forward to introducing even more participants to Illinois’ adult-use cannabis program and encourage all feedback to help ensure we continue to grow the program together.”

But Juan Aguirre, one of the organizers for True Social Equity in Cannabis, said that applicants “have been devastated by what should have been a solution from the legacy market to the legal market. Instead, their life savings have been devastated; their time, their hop, their efforts have been in vain.”

Under the new rules proposed by Priztker, “applicants will be able to apply online with certain basic information (such as the name of the organization, list of principal officers, contact information, and a $250 fee).”

Pritzker’s office said that the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation also plans to to issue 55 conditional licenses to be distributed across the existing 17 BLS Regions detailed in the state’s new recreational cannabis law.

One of the organizers at the rally in Chicago told WLS that the proposal from Pritzker is “a great start to addressing some of the harm caused by the War on Drugs and those harmed by the original process.”

“I think the 55 for $250 is a good start, but we are far from equity,” the organizer, JR Fleming, said, as quoted by the station.

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Just Announced – High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice 2022

High Times is heading back to the Land of Lincoln!

In the High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice 2022, the largest pool of judges in history will help determine who has the best cannabis product in the stomping grounds of Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, and Oprah Winfrey.

It is only the third competition ever that will be open to the Illinois public.

Here’s the gist. From July 11-13, competitors will be able to submit their products at designated partnering cannabis retailers in Illinois. Then, a couple weeks later, on July 24, those interested in serving as judges for the competition can get their hands on a judge kit. The kits will be sold on a first-come-first serve basis, and will include up to 35 different cannabis products. They cost between $100 and $300. Want to be notified about judge updates? Sign up at CannabisCup.com/preregister.

Judges will have until September 4 to submit their choices. On September 18, winners will be announced.

As for competitors, one entry will cost you $500, and two will be $250 each. For three entries or more, however, the fee will be waived. 

A recreational and medical cannabis competition, the High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice 2022 will feature a dozen different categories: Indica Flower (maximum three entries per company); Sativa Flower (three per company); Hybrid Flower (three per company); Pre-Rolls (two per company); Concentrates (one per company); Vape Pens & Cartridges (one per company); Edibles: Gummies (one per company); Edibles: Non-Gummies (one per company); Edibles: Beverages (one per company); Medical Flower; (two per company); Medical Vape Pens (one per company); and Medical Edibles (one per company).

For flower entries, units must be one gram; the organizers will not accept any 3.5 gram units. Pre-roll and infused pre-roll entries will be capped at two-gram flower equivalency each, while concentrates and vape pens must be half-gram units (batteries required for cartridges). Edible units must have a maximum of 50mg of THC.

The competition is a win-win for both consumers and producers––the former gets to sample a wide variety of product and the latter can get their goods in front of hundreds of new customers, while receiving valuable feedback, as well.

But that isn’t all they might get. Winners will be taking home some hardware, and more. 

First place recipients will receive the gleaming High Times Cannabis Cup trophy, which was designed by Alex and Allyson Grey. Made of highly durable zinc and 24k gold plating, the trophy comes delivered in a gold box replete with a cleaning wipe to make sure it sparkles in front of all your customers and friends.

In addition, first place winners will get a full page advertisement in High Times magazine following the competition, along with other forms of promotion through the publication’s website and social media properties. They will also receive a detailed report of the judge scores and comments for their products.

Second place winners will receive a medal made of pewter with silver plating and a silver ribbon that will be inscribed with the winning category, along with a detailed report of the judges scores and comments. They will also receive a half-page advertisement in High Times magazine.

Third place recipients will get a medal made of pewter with bronze plating and a bronze ribbon inscribed with the winning category, along with a half-page advertisement in the magazine and a judges report.

Top three finishers will also receive artwork assets denoting their finish in the competition to place on their packaging and other materials. 

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Review Paper Examines Cannabis as a Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis

The authors of this review paper are representatives of Saint James School of Medicine in Illinois and School of Natural Sciences at Kean University in New Jersey. Their review paper, “Neurological Benefits, Clinical Challenges, and Neuropathologic Promise of Medical Marijuana: A Systematic Review of Cannabinoid Effects in Multiple Sclerosis and Experimental Models of Demyelination,” was published in the journal Biomedicines on February 24 and analyzes 28 different studies in relation to multiple sclerosis. These final studies were chosen from a pool of 119 articles that were eligible for consideration in this review.

Multiple sclerosis symptoms often include fatigue, mobility impairment, speech impairments, chronic neuropathic pain, anxiety, depression, and a range of other effects. In their review, researchers state that patients are dissatisfied with current treatments available for their condition, which motivates researchers “to search for adjunctive remedies in the hope of preventing breakthrough relapses and worsening of disability.” 

Fourteen of the 28 studies involved using animal models while exploring the effects of cannabis. Overall, the authors of the study determined that “The experimental results combined adequately demonstrate that cannabinoid treatments are effective” with diminishing a variety of symptoms. The authors determined that the studies were promising but cannot replace tests conducted on human subjects. “While internal validity was very good in the preclinical studies because experiments were well designed and well controlled, the external validity of animal studies is less certain due to differences in the cannabinoid systems between species that may affect safety, dose responses, tolerability, and homeostasis.”

The researchers also evaluated 14 human-based studies, which utilized Sativex®, which is a cannabis-based oral spray approved for multiple sclerosis in the EU, UK, and Canada, but not yet in the US. “The growing body of moderate-quality evidence for the safety and efficacy of cannabinoid treatment using 1:1 THC/CBD mixtures has led to its approval in some countries for the management of spasticity, pain, and bladder dysfunction in MS,” the authors wrote. “Our assessments agree with others, finding that the magnitudes of effects on short-term neurological outcomes in MS patients are either small, limited, or moderate, and that the benefits are more easily detected by subjective rather than objective measures.”

Nine of the studies analyzed the efficacy of cannabis on muscle spasms, five evaluated cannabis and pain, three examined lower urinary tract function, and three explored sleep quality.

The authors of this review conclude that, similarly to most other research initiatives involving cannabis, while there is promising evidence that cannabis can help treat multiple sclerosis and a variety of symptoms, more studies are necessary. “Future studies are recommended to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cannabinoid effects on MS lesions and to evaluate whether medical marijuana can accelerate remyelination and retard the accrual of disability over the long term.”

The National MS Society states that there are 2.3 million people who suffer from multiple sclerosis worldwide, and that over one million people suffer from the condition in the US. The organization’s stance on medical cannabis is supportive, and also calls for more research to bolster evidence for cannabis as a multiple sclerosis treatment. “The [National MS] Society supports the rights of people with MS to work with their health care provider to access cannabis for medical purposes in accordance with legal regulations in those states where such use has been approved. In addition, the Society supports the need for more research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of cannabis and its derivatives as a treatment for MS and its symptoms.”

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Illinois Proposal to Bar Employers from Firing Workers Over Pot Advances

The legislation passed in the Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday and arrived in the state Senate the following day. Democrats control both chambers of the general assembly.

Under the proposal, “an employer may not refuse to hire an individual or discipline an employee because results of an individual’s drug test indicate the presence of THC on the part of that individual,” nor may the employer fire or impose a discipline against an employee for such conduct. 

It does, however, permit an employer “to enforce a pre-employment drug testing policy, zero-tolerance drug testing policy, random drug testing policy, or a drug-free workplace policy or disciplining an employee for violating such policy, but provides than an employer may not take adverse action against an employee solely because of a positive drug test for cannabis unless the test result exceeds limits set forth in certain DUI provisions of the Illinois Vehicle Code.”

Moreover, the bill establishes “conditions under which an employer may discipline an employee for impairment,” and provides “that there is not a cause of action for any person against an employer for disciplining or terminating the employment of an individual when enforcing a compliant policy.”

According to local television station WGEM, the bill “does not exclude teachers, although schools have to follow zero-tolerance policies due to federal agreements.”

If the bill were to become law, it would serve as an important addendum to the state’s recreational cannabis program. The state legalized marijuana for adults aged 21 and older in 2019, when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law. 

In addition to establishing a regulated cannabis market, the law also sought to redress previous convictions that occurred during the era of prohibition. Pritzker has pardoned thousands of low-level cannabis convictions.

“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said in 2020. “We are restoring rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

Last year, the state raked in $1,379,088,278.61 in recreational cannabis sales, which was more than double what the program generated in its inaugural year of 2020.

But in spite of that, some employees in Illinois continue to face the risk of being sacked over a legal activity. 

“If we’re going to legalize the substance, you should talk about individual liberties and what people want to do on their weekends. We should allow people to make good choices and not be discriminated against in the workplace because of those choices as long as it’s not affecting the workplace,” said Democratic State House Rep. Bob Morgan, one of the sponsors of the bill, as quoted by WGEM.

The station reported that Morgan argues “people with trace amounts of cannabis in their system should not be at risk of losing their job unless they fall into one of those specific categories,” and that Illinois “should treat cannabis the same as it treats alcohol and other legal substances.”

But some Republican lawmakers in Illinois objected to the proposal.

“You may not be able to tell if someone is impaired or not until that accident happens or there’s a problem at the workplace,” said GOP state House Rep. Dan Ugaste, as quoted by WGEM. “I think we’re overstepping a little too quickly just to make certain someone can enjoy themselves on the weekend.”

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Illinois Cannabis Sales Doubled in 2021

The first year of legal cannabis sales in Illinois was a roaring success, but it turns out the second year was even better. 

Twice as good, in fact.

A report from the grimly named Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) showed that adult-use cannabis sales in the state totaled $1,379,088,278.61 in 2021––more than double the figure from the opening year of sales in 2020, which were roughly $669 million. 

The figures released by the IDFPR provide insight into the quantity of cannabis products sold, and when customers were buying them. 

The biggest month for pot sales in 2021 came at the very end of the year, with $137,896,859.11 generated in December. That was also the case in 2020, when the $86,857,898.27 worth of cannabis sales made December the highest-grossing month of that year. 

The IDFPR’s report also details the source of the money. Last year, $943,013,285.67 of the cannabis sales came from Illinois residents, while $436,176,093.93 came from out-of-state residents.

A total of 30,342,937 cannabis items were sold last year––up from 14,485,704 in 2020. 

Illinois’ recreational cannabis market opened for business on New Year’s Day 2020, a milestone that was met with long lines outside the states’ newly opened dispensaries. The first day of sales alone generated more than $3 million, and many of the shops ran out of weed during the opening week.

The figures continued to climb, giving the administration of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who signed the bill legalizing recreational cannabis in 2019, a reason to take a victory lap.

In June of 2020, Pritzker’s then-senior adviser for cannabis control Toi Hutchinson, who has since been hired as the Marijuana Policy Project’s president and CEO, said that the “successful launch of the Illinois legal cannabis industry represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and the very communities that have historically been harmed by the failed war on drugs.” 

“The administration is dedicated to providing multiple points of entry into this new industry, from dispensary owners to transporters, to ensure legalization is equitable and accessible for all Illinoisans,” Hutchinson said. 

To that end, the economics have only been one facet of Illinois’ new marijuana law. As with other states that have legalized cannabis, there has also been a concerted effort by policymakers to redress previous convictions of marijuana offenders. 

When legalization took effect in Illinois, Pritzker heralded the occasion with more than 11,000 pardons for nonviolent cannabis offenders.

“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said at the time. “We are restoring rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

Pritzker did the same to kick off 2021, issuing more than 9,000 pardons for low-level cannabis offenders and expunging more than 490,000 pot-related arrests.

“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a statement released at the time. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward.”

While most other states have legalized cannabis through the ballot process, Illinois became the first to do so through the legislature in 2019, something Pritzker touted at the time of the bill signing.

“As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy: a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people,” said Pritzker.

“Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do. This legislation will clear the cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders through an efficient combination of automatic expungement, gubernatorial pardon and individual court action. I’m so proud that our state is leading with equity and justice in its approach to cannabis legalization and its regulatory framework. Because of the work of the people here today and so many more all across our state, Illinois is moving forward with empathy and hope.”

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Former Illinois Drug Czar Joins the Cannabis Lobbying Sector

The top official overseeing Illinois’ cannabis policy is leaving the public sector to join the weed lobby. 

Toi Hutchinson, who has served as a senior adviser to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker for cannabis control, announced this week that she will be taking a job with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), billed as the “the number one organization in the U.S. dedicated to legalizing cannabis,” as the group’s new president and CEO.

“I’m pleased to be joining the team at MPP, where I will continue my years-long effort to develop and support cannabis legalization legislation that centers on equity and repairing the harms of the past,” Hutchinson said in a press release on Wednesday. “We are incredibly proud of the hard work and lessons learned in Illinois, standing up programs to invest in equity entrepreneurs, reinvesting in communities and clearing hundreds of thousands of arrests and criminal records.”

Pritzker, a Democrat, saluted Hutchinson on Twitter.

“For over two years, Toi Hutchinson has been my foremost advisor on cannabis: making Illinois’ industry the most equitable in the country,” Pritzker said in a tweet on Monday. “While I’m sad to see her go, it was an honor to have her lead this charge. Toi, Illinois is a better state because of your public service.”

A former Democratic state senator in Illinois, Hutchinson, was appointed to the cannabis advisory role in Pritzker’s administration back in 2019. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time that the governor’s administration had initially defined Hutchinson’s role as “Illinois cannabis regulation oversight officer,” which was often referred to as the state’s “pot czar.”

But Hutchinson’s title was eventually changed to “senior adviser to the governor on cannabis control.” As The Tribune reported then, it was “unclear when the decision was made to give Hutchinson the senior adviser title,” but that “appointing her to the job created in legislation she voted on could have run afoul of the state constitution.”

Whatever the reasoning, Hutchinson’s has been an omnipresent figure in the state’s rollout of the recreational cannabis program, which was created when Pritzker signed the historic legislation into law in the summer of 2019.

Illinois Focuses on Equity

Along with clearing the way for cannabis sales, Illinois’ new law has also resulted in thousands of pardons for individuals who were previously busted and convicted on low-level pot charges.

After signing the bill, Pritzker said that the new law would herald an end to “the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” and restore the “rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans.”

“Illinois has done more to put justice and equity at the forefront of this industry than any other state in the nation, and we’re ensuring that communities that have been hurt by the war on drugs have the opportunity to participate,” Pritzker said last year. 

Hutchinson echoed that.

“I’m proud to work with Governor Pritzker in creating equity in the cannabis industry in a way that no other state has done,” Hutchinson said at the time. “By expunging hundreds of thousands of cannabis-related records, reinvesting the money spent on adult-use cannabis in Illinois into communities that are suffering and making equity a central focus of the cannabis licensure process, the administration is ensuring that no community is left out or left behind.” 

The new program has also brought a windfall to Illinois, with the state reporting that it generated $582,226,511.45 in revenue from recreational pot sales in 2020, its first full year since the new law took effect. 

Hutchinson said that the “successful launch of the Illinois legal cannabis industry represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and the very communities that have historically been harmed by the failed War on Drugs.”

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