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Will New Cannabis Bill Solve Illinois’s Dispensary Licensing Quagmire?

Cannabis Blog
March 19, 2021

This week, State Representative La Shawn Ford announced a bill* that he hopes will allow the Illinois dispensary rollout to move forward and advance social equity goals. While these are great goals, we think the bill will not accomplish either.

The proposed legislation would advance the distribution of 110 new recreational dispensary licenses. Those licenses would be awarded in two lotteries that would be held after the lottery for the initial 75 licenses. That initial lottery has been indefinitely delayed due to several lawsuits challenging various aspects of the application and licensing processes. This new bill does not address those issues and seems highly unlikely to resolve the pending lawsuits. The goal of the bill is to ensure that social equity applicants would be prioritized for the new licenses, but the bill revises the qualifications for social equity. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the reason for the new definition is “to more specifically target people of color and those living in areas disproportionately harmed by the drug war.” It should go without saying that is a great reason for the change, but we remain skeptical the changes will actually accomplish that goal and the new definition could actually lead to additional delays.

Rep. Ford’s bill apparently has the support of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office. “We welcome the legislation proposed by Rep. Ford in coordination with community stakeholders that aims to address acknowledged shortcomings in the Act,” said spokeswoman Charity Greene. “Holding an additional lottery for conditional adult-use dispensary licenses will not only provide a path to participation in the industry for Illinoisans from all backgrounds but also provide high-scoring applicants from the first round an opportunity to gain a license.”

While we applaud Rep. Ford’s (and others’) efforts to accelerate and improve Illinois’s dispensary licensing process, we are not optimistic that it will be successful. We believe there are just too many competing interests and related lawsuits that would not be resolved by the proposed legislation. The delay in issuing new dispensary licenses is unfortunate, and sadly we do not see it ending any time soon.

Be sure to follow our blog to stay up to date on Illinois cannabis licensing and other developments in the cannabis industry.

*There appear to be various versions of the bill being circulated; this post discusses the version available on the Grown In website.

‎Mr. Sargent is partner in Locke Lord LLP’s Cannabis Industry Group. Locke Lord ‎represents the Plaintiffs in a litigation against the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation ‎regarding the scoring of dispensary licenses (Hazehaus et al., v. IDFPR et al, Case No. 2020 CH 000149 ‎‎(Sangamon County)).

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