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Coronavirus Pandemic Means Major Changes To Marijuana Industry In Illinois

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there weren't any festivals, parties, or big clouds of smoke this 4/20 – the unofficial holiday celebrating marijuana--this, the first year it's legal for recreational use.

But with the stay-at-home order in place, and limited access to dispensaries, CBS 2's Tara Molina learned changes to the cannabis industry aren't unique to this 4/20 day.

The Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary River North, 436 N. Clark St., was set to open and start serving customers weeks ago. We learned that COVID-19 slowed the process and delayed the opening.

The pandemic has also totally changed how the dispensaries that are still running are operating every day.

It's hardly the 4/20 scene many expected months ago when recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois. Back then, people anticipated pot parties, rallies, and events, but as it is, there is just a reminder to stay home from the city and state.

"With the first year of legalization in Illinois, this would have been a very different celebration had the COVID pandemic not hit," said Jason Erkes of Cresco Labs, the company behind Sunnyside dispensaries.

Where recreational orders have moved online, a customer gets a ticket with a time to pick up.

"A lot of the stores in Illinois have limited space capacity, so we are taking orders online," Erkes said, "but we have typically the same capacity we have any other day, with the amount of people we can get through the door; the amount of orders we can take."

Some of those orders, bigger now. Erkes said some are choosing to stock-up.

"I think the numbers month to month will continue to be steady," he said.

Molina checked in with the state and city on that, and the tax revenue they get from such orders. The city and state said it is too early to tell how April's numbers will stack up.

Statewide sales in March totaled more than $35 million.

It is still unclear if COVID-19 could affect the $28 million Governor JB Pritzker estimated the state will collect in taxes; $3.5 million for the city of Chicago.

"While this is the first year cannabis is legal in Illinois for 4/20, revelers should continue to consume cannabis and cannabis infused products responsibly," Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor for Cannabis Control to Gov. Pritzker said in a statement. "Illinoisans who are purchasing products from dispensaries should practice the social-distancing methods recommended by the Illinois Department of Public Health and any consumer who is sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should remain at home."

The Mayor's office said the city's projected cannabis revenues represent only 0.03 percent of the 2020 budget, and while the fiscal impact of the coronavirus crisis remains to be seen, the city plans for such events by including multiple financial scenarios in its budget forecasting.

Pritzker signed an executive order extending the deadline for some recreational cannabis business licenses because of COVID-19. That deadline is coming up on April 30.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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