The only thing obvious — at least so far — about marijuana legalization is that a lot of customers were waiting to buy.
Depending on one’s perspective, the following is either good or bad news.
Statewide sales of legal marijuana totaled nearly $20 million in 12 days that started on Jan. 1.
That number breaks down to more than 495,000 transactions with an average cost of about $40.
Does that number reflect success?
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s top marijuana aide indicated she was thrilled by what transpired.
“Illinois had a far more successful launch of cannabis than many of the other states that have legalized, but this is about more than money, it’s about starting a new industry in a way that includes communities left behind for far too long,” said state marijuana czar Toi Hutchinson.
Success, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But $20 million in sales over 12 days demonstrates the pent-up demand for legal marijuana and marijuana-infused products.
Many purchasers, no doubt, were drawn to dispensaries by the nature of the legalization itself, a historic event no matter how one slices it. But how many will come back, how much will they buy and how many problems legalization will cause remain to be seen.
The answers to those questions will contribute to the answer of the biggest question of all — how much tax revenue will marijuana legalization generate?
One purchaser commented that legal marijuana is a lot more expensive than that which can be obtained in the illegal underground market.
Obviously, it’s worth something extra not to have to worry about legalities. But there are limits, and many consumers almost certainly will engage in comparison shopping.
That’s why the underground market is expected to continue to operate. By the way, if marijuana is legal, how much law-enforcement emphasis will there be on addressing the competition problem posed by illegal marijuana?
While there may be questions about the level of revenue, there’s no doubt where that revenue will go.
Lawmakers sliced and diced the question, handing out percentages on the basis of policy and political priorities.
For instance, 2 percent of tax revenue will go to fund a public-education campaign about marijuana and data analysis about the effects of legalization.
The legislature allocated 8 percent of revenues to local governments for law enforcement and 10 percent to pay the state’s bills.
Another 20 percent, ironically, will go for substance-abuse and mental-health programs, problems legalization will exacerbate. The biggest chunks — 35 and 25 percent — will go to the state’s general fund and poverty communities, respectively.
No one, however, should get their hopes up about a potential windfall. Whatever money is added to various programs from marijuana funds probably will be deducted from funds traditionally appropriated through the state budget process.
That’s how they do it with the state lottery money that purports to go to the public schools. Why would legal marijuana be any different?