As of January 1st, 2020, two states in the Midwest permit the sale legalized recreational marijuana. A new law in Illinois, which kicked in on the first of the year, makes weed use legal in the country’s sixth-largest state. Meanwhile, a similar law in Michigan took effect on December 1st, 2019. As we enter a new era of cannabis consumption, here’s what you need to know about the new regulations in both states, as well as the larger impact they may have on the region.
Since December 1st, adults aged 21 and over with a valid state ID or driver’s license have been able to purchase recreational marijuana from licensed retailers. Legally, they may have up to 2.5 ounces of weed on their person, or up to 10 ounces at home. In addition to cannabis flower, other products including edibles, tinctures, capsules, lotions, pre-rolled joints, and extracts are also sold. It is illegal to transport any amount of marijuana across state lines, as well as to consume marijuana in public, operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, or provide marijuana to anyone under the age of 21.
Medical dispensaries — including those that currently sell medical marijuana — must go through a separate licensing process in order to sell recreational cannabis. As of December 22nd, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency granted 44 licenses to sell marijuana, including 22 to retail establishments.
Ultimately, it is up to individual communities to determine whether or not to permit recreational marijuana sales; so far, approximately 80 percent of municipalities have chosen to opt out of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. Detroit has decided to hold off on recreational marijuana sales until at least January 31st, at which point city lawmakers will craft an ordinance governing the recreational businesses in the municipality. There are approximately 300,000 individuals in Michigan who use medical marijuana — which was legalized in 2008 — and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that there may be about 1.5 million people in the recreational market in the state.
According to Brad Forrester, a board member with the Michigan affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the state’s law is one of the most generous in home cultivation. “We can also possess all the cannabis that we legally grow from our 12 plants, which could be several pounds,” he tells Rolling Stone.
Though it’s too early to see any significant impact on the state’s economy, we do know that by December 22nd, weed sales brought in more than $4.7 million in the first three weeks of legalization. The largest concentration of retail sellers can be found in the Ann Arbor area, which, in 1972, became the first city to decriminalize marijuana in Michigan. There are currently three retailers in the state licensed for at-home cannabis delivery, though drive-thrus, mobile weed shops, and online sales are all prohibited.
On Wednesday, Illinois became the eleventh state to permit recreational marijuana sales. Residents of Illinois over the age of 21 with a valid state ID or driver’s license can purchase recreational marijuana from licensed retailers. Illinois residents who are 21 or over will be permitted to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of concentrate, and 500 milligrams of THC in edibles, while adult residents from other states will be allowed half that much. However, it remains illegal to consume marijuana in public, operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, or provide marijuana to anyone under the age of 21, according to Matthew Schweich, deputy director of Marijuana Policy Project. At this point, 37 retailers in the entire state have been authorized to open — 24 of which are located in the Chicago area.
The state’s dispensaries are expecting to sell out of cannabis shortly after legalization, predicting that marijuana flower — the dried buds that can be smoked — will likely be the first to go, the Chicago Tribune reported. Local authorities anticipate recreational weed being more popular than its medical counterpart: While less than 54,500 medical patients bought weed at dispensaries in November, nearly 946,000 Illinois residents — more than nine percent of people over age 21 — could become cannabis consumers, according to a survey commissioned by state lawmakers.
As a result, Kelvin McCabe, a member of the board of directors of the Illinois affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says that he’s worried that the number of dispensaries open today and amount of product available is “woefully inadequate” for dealing with the state’s consumers. “We expect it to be kind of chaotic,” he tells Rolling Stone. “There’s probably going to be long lines, even if it’s cold, nasty weather, which we usually get in the Midwest.”
The state has also drawn criticism for the lack of diversity of business owners licensed to sell recreational marijuana. According to USA Today, out of the 11 dispensaries licensed in Chicago so far, not one is owned by a woman or person of color. Last month, members of the Black Caucus called for the sale of recreational marijuana to be postponed until July 1st, providing more time to issues licenses to people in color, though ultimately it did not pass.
Kevin Sabet, former Obama Administration advisor and the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) — a group vocally opposed to legalized marijuana — is not a fan of the legislation. “We stand with the Black Caucus in demanding a delay of the implementation of this reckless marijuana bill that not only has fallen short on social justice, but also is lacking in public health safeguards,” he tells Rolling Stone.
Why marijuana in the Midwest matters
Thanks to the new laws in Michigan and Illinois, the Midwest is no longer a recreational marijuana desert. But what does that mean for the region? “Until 2018, no state in the Midwest had approved a legalization policy,” Schweich tells Rolling Stone. “The victories in Michigan and Illinois show that voters across the country, and across the political spectrum, are ready to replace prohibition with responsible regulation. Lawmakers in neighboring states like Ohio will feel more pressure to take action on this issue.”
There is, however, also concern over the increase in the illegal sales of marijuana that have flourished in states with legal cannabis markets, the Associated Press reports. McCabe says that the higher prices for marijuana in Illinois means that the underground market will thrive, as they’re able to offer cannabis at a lower cost to consumers because they don’t pay taxes or have to deal with the regulations. “Of course it’s our position that for legalization to succeed, one of the goals of it should be to displace the so-called ‘black market’ so that people go and buy regulated products that they know are safe and they’ve been tested. But if the prices are so high and the economics of it is that there’s way more demand than supply, we’d anticipate prices will remain high and then those people will probably not use those legal stores because it’s too expensive.”
Though there is no consensus on the legalization of cannabis, what is clear is that any changes in legislation are likely to continue at a state level. “What is going on in Illinois and what’s going on here in Michigan — this is how we will ultimately break the back of the federal prohibition,” Forrester says. “It’s not going to be any great, magnanimous act of Congress. This is going to be something that happens because [of] people in Michigan who fought for our rec law, [and] people in California and Colorado and all the other states that are fighting for these reforms. It’s because all of us working together are making these reforms happen.”