Recreational Cannabis a 'Tremendous' Opportunity in Illinois, Pot Exec Says

Photo Credit: AP/Shutterstock
June 3, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

Recreational cannabis will increase the market opportunity in Illinois ten-fold, Green Thumb Industries (GTI) CEO and founder Ben Kovler told Cheddar on Monday.

"This legislation ... will set the stage for the rest of the country as they tax and regulate the product," said Kovler. "It's a huge opportunity for GTI. It's a huge opportunity for the other operators, as well as new entrants in the space. We are excited about it for the state."

A recreational marijuana legalization bill passed through the state House and Senate last week, as lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln set the stage for Illinois to be the 11th U.S. state to allow recreational marijuana. If Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the bill ー and he is expected to ー Illinois will be the second U.S. state to legalize recreational cannabis through the legislative process, and the first to establish a framework for commercial sales that way.

For GTI, which is headquartered in Chicago, and other Illinois-based companies like and Verano Holdings, recreational marijuana legalization poses a huge opportunity. Cultivators that are already established in the state benefit from being grandfathered into the system as recreational growers, although the state will accept applications from craft cultivators once the market goes online in 2020, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"The Illinois industry under medical is a $150 [million] to $200 million industry. We see under legalized that being at least 10x the size ー so that's ten times the size that it is today," Kovler said.

Last year, several major cultivators and dispensaries, including GTI-Clinic, Cresco, and PharmaCann, set up and contributed to a political action committee, Illinois Relief Fund, which aims, among other things, to limit the amounts of new licenses granted to external cultivators and to give those already established in the market a head start on growing, The Chicago Tribune reported. Their actions, however, run counter to predictions demand will greatly outpace supply in Illinois following legalization.

Outside of Illinois, GTI has been pushing to expand in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California, as well, with help from a $105 million round of debt funding. Although gradual progress is being made toward an easing of regulations on the federal level, like from the SAFE Banking Act, and the STATES Act, for the time being Kovler said he believes legalization will remain a state-by-state endeavor.

"We have an opportunity within GTI in order to grow this business tremendously. It costs capital, and we were excited to raise cheap capital for our shareholders," Kovler said.

Green Thumb Industries last week reported first quarter revenue of $27.9 million ー up 155 percent year-over-year ー and $9.7 million in net losses.