Cannabis users in Illinois were celebrating more than the New Year when it joined 10 other states and Washington D.C. in allowing the legal sale and purchase of marijuana. The bill was signed into law by Guv. J.B. Pritzker and allows Illinois residents and visitors to purchase the THC laden consumable from licensed dispensaries, beginning Jan. 1.

This caused one spokesperson, Jason Erkes, from Cresco Labs, to comment, “The level of excitement has far outweighed the launch of an iPhone or new pair of Jordan [shoes].” Erkes made his remark to CNBC.

The new state law allows people of age 21 years and older to own 30 grams of cannabis flower, 500 milligrams of THC in pot products and 5 grams of cannabis concentrate. Out-of-state visitors can buy 15 grams of the drug but cannot take it out of Illinois. The law further stipulates that it can only be smoked in private residences and smoke shops.

Like the celebrants of the Dec. 5, 1933 end of national prohibition on alcohol, regular marijuana users and those just wanting an excuse to join the party are expected to gather at about 40 licensed dispensaries located mostly in the Chicago suburbs.

Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based company, trained over 500 employees for the onslaught of shoppers on New Year’s Day and their shelves were stocked with cannabis and related products including flowers, pre-rolled joints, concentrates and edibles. Vaping concentrates will also be available, but these are facing a federal ban on flavors other than tobacco and menthol.

Erkes added, “We anticipate people who haven’t used cannabis in 20 or 30 years and those who never have.” He estimated that “thousands” are expected to arrive at four of its stores. Cresco has even rented out a coffee shop near its dispensary in Lakeview for any overflow of customers during peak hours.

There are some legal issues in play with the new law. People convicted for low-level marijuana may be able to expunge their records resulting in the release of some prisoners.

The law will have a large financial impact on the state. Taxes imposed range from 10% for low THC level products to 35% for products with a higher concentration. THC is the chemical that produces the “high” that users seek.

A Colorado-based consulting firm, Freedman and Koski, estimates $440 million to $676 million will flow into state coffers each year and that Chicago alone could collect about $3.5 million in 2020.

That amount of money is a tough foe to battle by those who opposed the new law. Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an advocacy group, argued that the impressive revenue estimates don’t account for an increase in car accidents caused by people driving under the influence of marijuana or a possible decline in workplace productivity.

He presented other arguments during a CNBC interview that the law would not solve any budget woes, would only benefit “corporations who want to make money”, that it has “nothing to do with social justice”, and that it will not remedy the effect drug laws have had on communities of color.

Marijuana buds are weighed at a dispensary in Los Angeles
Marijuana buds are weighed at a dispensary in Los Angeles AFP / Frederic J. BROWN