The Illinois adult-use cannabis market has been booming since it opened in early 2020, selling more than $1 billion in products in its first year. That growth is expected to continue this year, with more stores coming online every month.
What’s driving that expansion? Legal, reliable, and tested products consumers can’t find anywhere else.
Chicago’s cannabis consumers are all about those flower strains. Gelato, Rainbow Chip, and Pineapple Express are hot right now.
In Chicago, the city’s cannabis culture—a heavily flower-based scene—is driving the product selection in the stores. But so is the coronavirus pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, ailments like stress, anxiety, and depression, brought people to the dispensary, and the pandemic amplified those problems, so people are seeking more relief,” says Margie Levy, patient care specialist at Rise Mundelein, owned by Green Thumb Industries.
The pandemic has also pushed people to explore new ways to improve their self-care routines with products designed to help with sleep, anxiety, or intimacy.
Illinois consumers have a wide range of needs and experience with cannabis, but budtenders around town report that many are somewhat new to the plant and are looking for guidance and help to choose products. For these shoppers, factors like discretion and convenience are a priority. Cannabis concentrates like wax, rosin, and ice water hash aren’t as popular here as in more mature markets like Los Angeles. In this early legal era, Chicago consumers are happy to roll up old-school flower and explore the new world of high-end edibles.
Flower: Chicago’s favorite strains
Legal flower, the foundation of the cannabis world, is what Chicagoans really went for during Illinois’ first legal year. Quinn Stifler, a dispensary agent at Dispensary 33, says older customers often flock to “strains they recognize or smoked before in their younger years—classic genetics like Jack Herer, Northern Lights, and Sour Diesel.”
While it’s not unique to Chicago, Pineapple Express is a strain that sells out quickly at many city dispensaries. It’s not just the nostalgia, but also customers’ need for balanced hybrids, which they often ask for to avoid the paranoia brought on by some strong sativas.
Edibles: Tasty and potent
Local chef competes with national brands
Edibles are the go-to product for a lot of consumers right now, and the competition for shelf space is fierce. In Chicago, well-known national brands like Wana and Kiva Confections are being challenged by local upstarts like Mindy’s Artisanal Edibles, a collaboration between Cresco Labs and award-winning chef Mindy Segal.
Segal is well known around Chicagoland, having made her name with her beloved restaurant HotChocolate (which later became Mindy’s Bakery). In 2016 she partnered with Cresco, the national cannabis company—operating 24 Sunnyside cannabis dispensaries in six states—that was born and raised in Chicago. The result: Mindy’s Edibles, a product line that includes six fruit gummy flavors and three of Segal’s signature infused chocolates.
Brand recognition makes those products stand out from the rest “because people care about nice art, packaging, and a reliable experience,” says Dispensary 33’s Stifler. “Those brands are known for that.”
A more recent development in the edibles space is the entry of the chic LA-based brand Beboe in the Illinois market. Beboe launched with two 5mg pastilles blends, Inspired and Downtime, with each calibrated to enhance your mood (uplifting, or relaxing). With consumers looking to latch on to new brands, it’s no wonder Beboe’s ornate packaging catches their eyes and fits into their lifestyle, just as Beboe co-founder Clement Kwan intended when he pivoted from fashion to cannabis.
CBD- and CBN-forward edibles
The desire to improve specific moments, like sleep or workouts, is driving Chicago consumers to seek out cannabinoids like CBD and CBN. Nick Mandera, agent-in-charge at The Herbal Care Center, says “we’ve seen products with these cannabinoids, like Incredibles Snoozzzeberry gummies or high-CBD flower, gaining in popularity because people are looking to relax, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep. There isn’t enough CBD to go around because everyone is living high-stress lifestyles these days.”
The Incredibles line of infused edibles features CBD- and CBN-forward products like Incredibles Strahhhberry gummies, with a 1:1 ratio of CBD and THC (100mg CBD and 100mg THC per package), and Incredibles Snoozzzeberry gummies, which combine THC with CBN at a 5:1 ratio (100mg THC and 20mg CBN per package).
Pre-rolls: Enjoy a perfect joint every time
Pre-roll packs, which usually contain three to five professionally-rolled joints, don’t stay on shelves for longer than about a day because their convenience makes it easy to quickly spark up, and they provide a safe way to share weed during the pandemic.
GTI‘s Dogwalkers and Verano’s Swift Lift mini-joint packs include five half-gram pre-rolled joints. These pre-rolls are shorter than the standard joint, and are quickly becoming a customer fave because of their convenient size—they’re great for those with lower tolerances, or anyone looking for a little lift without the full potency of a full-size joint.
If you’re looking for more than a mini, Dogwalkers also offers single full-size Big Dog pre-rolls that run about $28 with tax. Single pre-rolls in Chicago tend to go for $20+ each plus tax, which is high relative to other legal states, but that’s the cost of convenience in an emerging market like Illinois.
Chicago gets intimate
Cannabis has many applications and Chicagoans are exploring them all, including how it can improve their intimacy. Quinn notes that many customers visit D33 in search of products that help with intimacy, either to help get out of their head, relax their bodies, or both.
While there isn’t a buffet of options just yet, 1906’s Love Drops are quite popular. These capsules incorporate 2.5mg THC, 2.5mg CBD, and five herbal aphrodisiacs to promote arousal. The packaging is pink and eye-catching, calling to mind Valentine’s Day candy hearts.
If you’re looking to wind down, Cloud Nine Lotion from Nature’s Grace and Wellness has been praised by Chicagoans for its relaxing effects and massage-friendly texture.