Customers waited in line for hours in January to buy legal pot for the first time, only to learn there were limits on purchases — and some stores weren’t even selling smokeable cannabis flower to recreational users.
But since persistent supply shortages marred the rollout of recreational sales, cultivators have scaled up their operations to meet Illinois’ growing demand for legal weed. Now, 10 months later, pot store shelves are consistently stocked with flower.
But another issue remains: prices are still sky high.
According to industry analysts, Illinois has the most expensive weed in the country. Budzu, a crowdsourcing site that tracks the price of cannabis, says the average cost for an eighth of an ounce is roughly $62. In Colorado, the same amount costs around $33.
“That is the number one complaint that we get on our reviews,” said Jonah Rapino, a spokesman for Wheaton-based NuEra, which operates three Illinois dispensaries and one of the state’s 21 cultivation centers. “They’re blaming us, like, ‘How could you do this to us? How could you charge us this much money? You’re evil capitalist monsters.’”
Though hefty taxes are tacked on, NuEra’s location in West Town is charging $80 for an eighth of an ounce of some flower varietals. Cannabis consultant Andy Seeger claimed the “obscene” prices at dispensaries across Illinois are being “artificially created” by the state’s few growers.
“Their willingness to drop prices is theirs alone,” added Seeger. “No one’s forcing them to. There’s almost no competition to this point.”
Bryan Zises, owner of Dispensary 33 in Uptown, also placed the onus on the growers, saying that prices are merely “passed along.”
“Talk to Cresco [Labs] and PharmaCann about that,” said Zises, referencing two firms that grow and sell cannabis in Illinois. “Any cost savings that we get, we will pass to our customers.”
Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes said he doesn’t know what it will take to bring prices down, though he claimed the company now has “more weed than there are stores to sell it.” But that’s only because the River North-based pot giant scaled up production at its three cultivation sites “to prepare for the next round of licenses to be issued,” Erkes noted.
Delay in new store openings
However, the state’s plan to issue 130 new pot shop licenses has been foiled by the coronavirus outbreak and an ongoing licensing imbroglio.
While the operators of the state’s 55 existing medical dispensaries were allowed to start selling recreational weed in January and open another store for adult-use sales, state records show that only 18 have earned new licenses. What’s more, the next 75 recreational dispensary licenses are being held indefinitely after lawsuits were filed over the application process and the state allegedly failing to meet its lofty goal of creating a more diverse cannabis industry.
Jeremy Unruh, a spokesman for PharmaCann, painted a different picture of the output coming from his company’s grow center in Dwight, which is about 30 miles west of Kankakee. Though Unruh noted that the supply issues have started to stabilize, he said the state “is going to need more product on the market” for prices to drop.
“Because [cannabis] is scarce, there’s still a premium associated with it,” Unruh said. “Once we have more retail locations open and once there is a more robust supply, I definitely think you’re going to see prices come down.”
Dusty Shroyer, who runs Revolution Enterprises’ greenhouse in Delavan, said the state’s cannabis supply is “much healthier” as he insisted that wholesale prices are “really fair and competitive.”
“We sell out of what we produce every single week. Pretty much as soon as we release it to dispensaries, it gets bought up right away,” noted Shroyer, who said Revolution is still actively working to increase its capacity.
Nevertheless, Shroyer said his operation is more focused on quality than quantity. That focus on growing primo pot paid off in September, when Revolution nearly swept the Illinois Cannabis Cup, a competition that allowed pot users to vote on which strain of weed they liked best.
And while Zises noted that his shop in Uptown prides itself on stocking the best cannabis the state has to offer, that’s proved to be a challenge because his team hasn’t seen the overall quality improve.
Still, the number of strains the store carries has jumped significantly.
A spokeswoman for the dispensary previously told the Sun-Times the store typically stocked about 15 types of cannabis flower for medical customers before recreational weed was legalized. Now, Dispensary 33 has nearly double that many varietals available, according to an online menu.