As adult-use cannabis sales are on pace to break $1 billion this year in Illinois, plans to roll out 110 new retail licenses are expected to be introduced this week.
The state banked a record $114,961,668 in cannabis sales last month, bringing its total to roughly $393.7 million for 2021, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s monthly sales figures.
But since Illinois started cashing in on the cannabis industry at the beginning of 2020, licensing disputes—for both retail and cultivation—have led lawmakers to try, and try again, to enact changes that would end the “monopoly” of the industry in the state, as Rep. La Shawn Ford called it.
An African American Democrat from Chicago, Ford introduced legislation Feb. 3 that would create up to 110 additional retail licenses, 35 of which would be reserved as social equity licenses for those affected most by prohibition. Plans for rolling out those new licenses are expected this week, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Those 110 new licenses are in addition to 75 original retail licenses that are currently pending, but were previously delayed and held up in legal disputes after regulators announced in September that only 21 social equity applicants would be included in a lottery to win those licenses.
The first 75 licenses were awarded in a lottery for businesses with perfect application scores. The 110 new licenses would include two more lotteries—75 licenses specified for businesses scoring 85% or better on their applications, and 35 licenses intended for primarily Black and Latino entrepreneurs, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Included in the amended version of House Bill 1443—sponsored by Ford—the 35 social equity licenses would be reserved for applicants who meet certain majority ownership criteria, such as people who reside in what the state has designated as disproportionately impacted areas, or those arrested or convicted for prohibition-related crimes. The amended bill strikes out eligibility for companies that merely hire 10 full-time workers who fit the above criteria.
In a statement released by the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois (CBAI) on April 30, Executive Director Pamela Althoff said, “Any negotiations on the law should occur between the General Assembly and the social equity applicants who have had their lives on hold waiting for licenses to be awarded.”
The CBAI established a Minority Access Committee, wholly comprised of social equity applicants, to negotiate with members of the General Assembly and other social equity groups on the association’s behalf for legislation that advances the interests of those applicants.
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his administration have stated support of legislation that reserves licenses for social equity applications.