Marijuana by the numbers as 420, the unofficial high holiday, turns 50

·3 min read

Tuesday is 4/20, which is just a date for many, but for the growing and increasingly mainstreamed cannabis culture, is something akin to a national holiday.

Born of teenage stoner lore, 4:20 p.m. was allegedly the weekly meeting time for a group of five California high school students nicknamed the Waldos, who in 1971 would gather to smoke pot and search for the holy grail of weed — a flourishing crop supposedly left untended in the forest.

While alternate origin theories abound, former San Rafael High School students Steve Capper, Mark Gravich, Larry Schwartz, Jeff Noel and Dave Reddix have told their story in multiple reports since the 420 term first surfaced in High Times in 1991. Somehow it stuck, and the five have been anointed grandfathers of the international phenomenon.

Over the years, 420 has become slang for getting high, a time of the day to partake and a date on the calendar to celebrate all things weed. As legalization sweeps across the country and cannabis goes corporate, the grassroots event has turned into a marketing opportunity for billion-dollar, publicly traded marijuana companies to commercialize.

Here’s a look at how cannabis stacks up in Illinois and the U.S. circa April 20, 2021 — 50 years after the de facto high holiday took root.

State legalization

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 17 states and Washington D.C., with New Mexico, Virginia and New York the most recent to approve it.

In 1996, California became the first state to approve the use of medical marijuana through Proposition 215. Colorado and Washington were the first states to approve recreational marijuana sales in 2012, opening the floodgates to a broader retail industry.

Illinois legalized recreational marijuana use on Jan. 1, 2020.

Changes in attitudes

As more states legalize recreational weed, 91% of U.S. adults say marijuana should be legal in some form, including 60% that approve of recreational use, according to a Pew Research study published Friday.

One in four Americans used cannabis in some form during the past 12 months, according to a YouGov study released Monday that was commissioned by Chicago-based cannabis firm Cresco.

Nearly one fourth of cannabis users said they tried it for the first time within the past year, according to the YouGov study.

Midwestern cannabis users consume more edibles and beverages than other regions of the country, the study showed.

More than four in 10 cannabis users believe 420 should be recognized as a national holiday, according to the YouGov study.

Growing sales

An April report by cannabis research firm Headset projects legal U.S. weed sales to hit $28.3 billion in 2022, up from $22.8 billion this year, a 24% gain.

Marijuana sales in Illinois have soared since the state legalized recreational use, reaching $1.03 billion last year. That included $669 million in recreational weed sales and more than $366 million in medical sales, according to the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which regulates dispensaries in the state.

The pace has accelerated in 2021, with nearly $377 million in total marijuana sales through March, including $279 million in recreational sales and $98 million in medical sales, according to the state.

Tax revenue

States collected $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue in 2020, with California topping the list at just over $1 billion, according to a study released last week by US Drug Test Centers.

Illinois generated $175 million in marijuana taxes in 2020, ranking 5th among all states, according to the study.

Illinois dispensaries

There are 110 recreational dispensaries in Illinois as of April 19, the maximum currently allowed under state law. When Illinois legalized recreational marijuana, it allowed each of the 55 medical dispensaries to add adult-use sales at their existing location and open a second adult-use location.

There were 80 recreational dispensaries licensed to operate in Illinois at the start of 2021, according to the state.

A long-delayed lottery to award 75 new licenses with a social equity focus is likely to move forward this year after the state gave hundreds of unsuccessful applicants a second chance to qualify.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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