Illinois, which began selling marijuana to adults a little more than a year ago, has gotten a tax boost that now surpasses alcohol revenues. In the first quarter of 2021 (Jan. to March), the state took in more than $86 million from cannabis sales and about $72 million from alcohol.
And like other now-legal states, Illinois lawmakers — the first to legalize marijuana by legislative action rather than through the voter initiative process — are finding that those revenues are helping to weather the pandemic. In 2020 legal states brought in substantial amounts of tax money, from almost $24 million in Alaska to more than $469 million in Washington state. Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who has long been opposed to legalization, admitted at a recent virtual town hall meeting that he is “weakening on that position,” at least in part because the state needs the money. (He also wants to eliminate the state income tax.)
The popularity of cannabis only continues to grow. A new poll from Pew Research indicates nine of 10 adults favor legalization in some form, with almost 70% in favor of recreational sales and fewer than one in ten who want it to remain completely illegal.
In March alone, Illinois adults spent almost $110 million on cannabis, a number that has been steadily growing, following the pattern of other states with more established legal programs like Colorado and California. It takes time to build a market, but Illinois seems to be doing it quickly and beyond expectations.
Even as it’s news to some policy makers, it’s certainly been no secret that cannabis revenues everywhere are overcoming alcohol. Both California and Nevada’s marijuana taxes began outperforming alcohol a couple of years ago, and Colorado has sold more than a billion dollars worth of cannabis just since the pandemic began last March.
Cannabis revenues overtook alcohol in Illinois in February. At this rate, the state could sell a billion dollars worth of marijuana by the end of the year. Last year, on sales of about $670 million, the state received $205.4 million, a number that is only expected to grow in 2021.
In December, Gov. J.B. Pritzker reported the state had processed more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with convictions on their records from before marijuana was legalized.