Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his State of the State address to talk up the tourism boost that the legal marijuana trade will bring.

It was the first state in the region to legalize recreational cannabis, and sales began at several existing medical marijuana dispensaries on Jan. 1. “It gives us a chance to collect tax revenue from the residents of Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana,” said Pritzker in his eagerly anticipated speech.

Those neighbouring states have not yet legalized adult-use sales, meaning residents have been crossing over into Illinois to buy cannabis in a safe, legal environment.

Pritzker campaigned on a pledge promise to boost the state’s coffers by legalizing marijuana along with other measures such as sports betting. He stormed to victory in the gubernatorial election and was sworn in on Jan. 14, 2019.

By June he had signed legislation permitting a legal marijuana trade to spring up, and sales began within less than seven months. Anyone aged 21 or over can now purchase up to 30g of cannabis flower, 5g of concentrate and edibles and other derivatives with up to 500mg THC content.

Illinois managed to fast track the legalization process by eschewing a public vote and going down the legislative route. Vermont quickly followed in its footsteps and now New Mexico is bidding to become the third state to legalize adult-use marijuana without a public referendum on the matter.

Pritzker said that enormous strides can be made when Democrats and Republicans work together to achieve a common goal. He hailed Illinois’ recreational marijuana bill as the most “equity-centric” in the nation, as tax revenue will be used to boost the prospects of entrepreneurs in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, and added that it will create 63,000 new jobs in the state.

Pritzker granted more than 11,000 pardons to people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses on the day legal sales began, and many more Illinoisans stand to receive pardons. Last week plans were unveiled to launch the state’s first public cannabis consumption lounge, another sign that Illinois is determined to become the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to marijuana.

The next step will involve dedicated recreational cannabis stores opening their doors across the state, while cultivators are striving to ramp up production in order to meet demand.

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