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What’s An Ounce Gonna Cost Me? Your Legal Weed Questions Answered

Updated Oct. 31, 2019 at 11:15 a.m.

Will I be able to buy legal weed with a credit card? Can restaurants sell marijuana infused-foods? How will I know when I'm high?

You've sent us lots of questions about legal weed. Some require a deep dive into the history of the plant or the lengthy legal steps to get a cannabis crime expunged, but this week, it's time for another round of FACQs (frequently asked cannabis questions.)

What will the cost be to buy, say, 30 grams of legal weed? And will the cost be less than/or bring down the cost of medical marijuana?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

Tricky question! It’ll likely cost a lot, at least at first. That’s because high demand and a tight cap on cultivators and dispensaries will almost certainly lead to a shortage of weed in Illinois at the beginning, experts say.

Eli McVey, a research analyst at Marijuana Business Daily, said over time, prices start to decline in both recreational and medicinal markets as more growers enter the industry and existing growers get more efficient.

McVey, who lives in Colorado, said 30 grams, or a bit more than an ounce, of recreational weed goes for about $90 in his home state today. But in 2015, a year after Colorado started selling recreational weed, an ounce sold for $140 before taxes.

“However, there were several hundred cannabis growers in Colorado in 2015 and there will be fewer than 100 in Illinois in 2020,” McVey wrote in an email. “Plus, Colorado is about half the size [in population] of Illinois, so there wasn’t as much in-state demand.”

His guess? Illinois consumers could be paying roughly double the prices Colorado consumers were back in 2015. So he predicts an ounce of cannabis could run somewhere around $300 before taxes.

Paul Lee, a manager at Dispensary 33 in Chicago, estimates prices will be even steeper — $400-600 after taxes for an ounce depending on the strength of the weed and the dispensary.

But let’s talk even smaller quantities — enough to roll a couple of joints. Currently in Chicago, a single gram of strong medical weed costs about $20, according to the crowdsourcing site Budzu, which tracks weed prices across the country.

If recreational weed ends up at the same price point, Chicago taxes (state weed tax, state sales tax and local weed tax) would bump that anywhere from $24 to $27, depending on the strength of the weed.

Will banks and credit card companies be part of the process or still all cash?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

Cash only — at least for now! Weed is illegal at the federal level so major credit card companies say they don't feel comfortable doing business with dispensaries.

Earlier this year, cannabis company Columbia Care rolled out its own credit card. But it only works at their dispensary locations, including one in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood.

But people may be able to use credit cards to purchase cannabis products if the U.S. SAFE Banking Act is signed into law. That law, which has passed the House and is now in a Senate committee, would protect financial institutions from federal punishment for doing business with legitimate cannabis businesses. Local lawmakers have also passed measures meant to assure credit card companies they’d be protected from repercussions, though no major company has said it will take the leap.

So you said that 30 grams of cannabis flower will be allowed in Illinois. Will cannabis be legal in other forms such as edibles or oils?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

Yep! One way to get a sneak peak at what might be sold in recreational shops is to browse products on websites of Chicago's existing medical dispensaries. Owners and industry folks say the products will be very similar.

An illustration of a brownie with green flecks and a candy with a marijuana leaf on the wrapper

Will restaurants/caterers/food trucks be able to sell marijuana-infused menu items?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

Nope, only licensed dispensaries can sell cannabis treats.

However, a provision of the Illinois law allows local governments to decide whether they want to allow people to use cannabis at places like bars, restaurants or dispensaries. The law makes an exemption for cannabis in the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which bans smoking in office buildings and most public places.

Chicago officials intend to introduce a cannabis consumption licensing ordinance in late November, which will give us a better idea of how this might look in the city.

Will it be legal to order marijuana online if both the dispensary and recipient are in Illinois?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

Buying weed online or through the mail will still be illegal in Illinois, whether that's within the state or across state boundaries, according to state officials.

An illustration of a cannabis leaf with a quesiton mark in the center

What’s the difference in strength between the weed of the 70s and the weed that will be legal in Illinois?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

The answer is: it’s complicated. We think The Atlantic's deep dive on this is worth a read, even though it’s a few years old.

“It's difficult if not impossible to classify average potency in a way that can be tracked meaningfully over time," writes executive editor Adrienne LaFrance. "While there's almost certainly more super-strong pot available today — if only by the fact that it's now legal to buy in multiple states — it doesn't mean that all marijuana is ultra-potent today, which is how the narrative about potency is often framed. There's also a point at which most strains can't get much stronger.”

Must you give your license, like with alcohol? Must you register purchases under your name like [behind the counter medicine]? Can purchases be held against you?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

You will need a government-issued ID to buy weed. Dispensaries will use electronic card readers, like the ones used at grocery or liquor stores, to make sure your ID is valid, State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, wrote in an email. But state officials say that information will not be stored.

Your ID proves your age, since you have to be 21 to buy, and your address, since there are restrictions on the quantities of cannabis out-of-state visitors can buy.

I’ve heard a lot about issues with licensing and concerns that there won’t really be a “rollout” on January 1. Is there merit to this?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

There’s some merit to that, depending on who you ask. But not so much that you won’t be able to buy a joint on Jan. 1. Under the law, up to 110 dispensaries could theoretically be open statewide on New Year's Day.

But it’s unlikely they’ll all be ready, because dispensaries are subject to both a state licensing process and any local rules municipalities impose. And some towns have banned pot sales or are still working out the details of their own ordinances.

In Chicago, for example, state law allows for about 20 dispensaries to sell recreationally starting Jan. 1, but some of those could be delayed by the city’s own rules.

So far, only one dispensary within city limits is state-licensed to sell recreationally at the start of the year — MedMar Dispensary in Lakeview — though that number will likely increase in the next couple of months.

Here’s a list of existing medical dispensaries across the state that have been granted a license to sell recreationally starting Jan. 1.

An illustration of a joint with question marks floating in the smoke

Once I’ve smoke[d] a cannabis cigarette, how will I know when I get high?

— Asked by an anonymous questioner

This differs for people! The National Institute on Drug Abuse has the clinical answer: “Many people experience a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation. Other common effects, which may vary dramatically among different people, include heightened sensory perception (e.g., brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite.”

But we reached out to David Bienenstock, co-host of the podcast Great Moments in Weed History, for his take.

"You'll know you're high when you start calling ‘cannabis cigarettes’ joints," he joked in an email. "But seriously, that's a very interesting question but one that's hard to answer directly. ... My best advice would be to not just sit there waiting to see if you feel high, because you'll pretty much know when it happens. And don't smoke a whole joint on your first try, start with a puff or two and see how you feel. You can always have more."

If marijuana is legalized in IL, do I have to use it? If so, how much am I required to smoke/take in per year?

— Asked by Lula PeBoy

While we highly suspect Lula PeBoy is not a real person, this is one of our favorite questions, even if it is a spoof. Rest assured, the law does not require that Illinois residents get high.

Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.

Illustrations are by WBEZ's interactive producer Paula Friedrich. You can follow her on Twitter @pauliebe.

This story has been updated with an additional estimate for the price of an ounce of weed.

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