In a newly developing legal market, cannabis has been making its way into the public eye in more ways than dispensaries alone. As the cannabis industry begins thriving in Chicago and Illinois as a whole, opportunities have been opening up for cannabis-adjacent industries to find their footing in the Illinois business world post-legalization.
One company, Chi High Tours, is the first of its kind for the city. Instead of pushing for a license to operate a dispensary, Chi High Tours is the first official cannabis tour to hit Chicago. The company offers a handful of tours that highlight Chicago culture, history, local businesses, and of course, cannabis.
While the company exists on the cusp of this great economic renaissance that always comes along with the green rush in newly legalized markets, Chi High Tours firmly believes that the Windy City will be one of the latest cities to climb its way to the top of the booming cannabis tourism industry. In fact, founder and CEO James Gordon believes that Chicago is set to be the next top tourism destination.
In 2019, a full year before cannabis was legalized in Illinois, Chicago saw record-breaking tourism numbers, attracting a whopping 117 million visitors to the city. With that in mind, it’s clear that people are already visiting Chicago in record numbers, far surpassing places like Los Angeles and Las Vegas where cannabis tourism is booming. That said, there are already so many people visiting Chicago, even without legal cannabis—a good sign for additional streams of tourism in Illinois.
“Adding legal cannabis to the mix creates an opportunity to attract more tourists that are visiting legal states for the sole purpose of partaking in recreational cannabis use and tourism,” Gordon said. In a study conducted by the department of tourism in Colorado, tourists seeking cannabis tended to stay longer and spend more money at local bars, restaurants, and shopping centers than people who were visiting for other reasons. Additionally, a whopping 6.2 percent of the 90 million annual visitors to Colorado reported that they visited solely for marijuana-related reasons.
“With data like this in mind, it’s easier to take our already astronomical tourist presence and add more to the mix or simply offer current tourists more to do. It’s an added revenue stream, and in a place like Chicago where Millennium Park, Willis Tower, Navy Pier, etc. are already attracting so many people, you can throw cannabis into the mix and see more small businesses taking off and captivate a larger audience of tourists who will stimulate our economy here in Chicago,” Gordon said. “That’s where the tours come in. The tours highlight the cannabis industry and encourage tourists to support it while also showing them things they’d come to see even if cannabis wasn’t part of the mix.”
Another interesting aspect of Illinois’s cannabis market is the laws surrounding it. In places like California and Colorado, it’s illegal to use cannabis anywhere except in your private domicile, and only if you have your landlord’s permission. Illinois is expected to approve public consumption in approved venues in 2021.
“That’s one of the coolest things about our city. Our laws create the opportunity to offer so many more unique tourism outlets than other states are allowed to, attracting more people to the area. We could begin offering smoke parlors and 420-friendly museums and bed and breakfasts, which could all be supported and highlighted to tourists by cannabis tours like Chi High,” Gordon said. “It’ll put Chicago at the top of the list of travel destinations for people interested in cannabis tourism since we’ll have the biggest offering of services and cannabis-adjacent businesses that other states simply can’t have.”
With millions of tourists visiting the Windy City annually and with the growing interest in purchasing and consuming cannabis, there’s potential for a lot of revenue to hit the state. If trends in states like Colorado, Nevada, and California are any indication, the possibilities for tourism revenue is incredibly high. As new cannabis-adjacent businesses emerge, more jobs and opportunities are created for small businesses, which in turn boosts the local and state economies.
Purchases of cannabis products with less than 35 percent THC are given a 10 percent sales tax, while edibles get 20 percent. Products with a THC concentration higher than 35 percent come with a 25 percent state tax. These taxes drive social equity programs in Chicago and can be used to help improve the community, including roads, schools, and social services.
“I think what we’d love to see most is more and more businesses getting involved in tourism. Glass shops for example can be highlighted in tours like ours, and in that case, each hand washes the other. There are so many creative ways to incorporate cannabis into our culture and with that comes more businesses, more jobs, more tourism, and ultimately more money for social services and the community from taxes,” Gordon said. “Cannabis tours create such a unique level of awareness in newly emerging markets that they can help support other small businesses, including bars and restaurants, and other attractions while also putting cannabis tourism on the map in Chicago.”
Chi High Tours is set to reopen March 11, 2021—exactly one year after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in the United States. With a vaccine available and COVID restrictions still in place, there has never been a better time to experience Chicago’s unique cannabis industry alongside all the other one-of-a-kind attractions the city has to offer. If trends continue to climb surrounding cannabis tourism in Illinois, there’s a good chance that Chicago will become one of the top travel destinations in the country. More information is available at chihightours.com.