SPRINGFIELD, IL — As the spring legislative session heads into its final week, Illinois state representatives Tuesday passed a bill that aims to clear the way for nearly 200 additional cannabis dispensaries across the state.
That includes the 75 licenses that the state’s legalization law mandated regulators to issue last year — a process that’s been delayed by executive orders from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legal challenges to his administration’s planned pot shop permit lottery — plus 120 new licenses, which would be issued via three new lotteries.
Currently, the 110 permitted pot shops across the state are controlled through the 55 medical licenses that were issued before retail recreational marijuana was legalized in Illinois. Since a single owner is permitted to own up to 10 of those dispensary licenses, a handful of multibillion corporations have established an oligopoly on the marijuana market.
Pritzker and other backers of marijuana legalization in Illinois praised the passage of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act as the most “equity-centric” legalization law in the country, since it aimed to include “social equity applicants” in the ownership of the industry and redistribute a portion of the tax revenue generated by weed sales to the areas hardest hit by pot prohibition and the war on drugs.
House Bill 1443 passed the Illinois House by a bipartisan vote of 70-33 with 14 members not voting. In a statement thanking the bill’s sponsors and advocates, the governor indicated he anticipated Senate passage and would sign the bill.
“As a state that values making our laws reflective of our diverse communities, we must ensure that social justice is at the center of everything we do — and today, that means building upon our work of passing the most equity-centric cannabis law in the nation,” Pritzker said.
“By authorizing additional lotteries that are focused on social equity applicants, we’re ensuring that communities that have been left out and left behind have new opportunities to access the cannabis industry. This legislation further ensures those least likely to have already had a foot in this industry will see a bigger piece of the pie.”
The bill‘s chief sponsor, State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), said time is of the essence when it comes to reform of the state’s stalled cannabis licensing scheme.
“If we do nothing, then we know it’s going to maintain the monopoly. It’ll be monopolized by the current owners. If we leave here by the end of May and we don’t pass legislation to increase the chances of diversity, we don’t come back until November,” Ford told Patch. “We need to have licenses out to diversify this industry before the end of the year. This is critical that we pass this now.”
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Under the new bill, the first 75 licenses would be awarded via lottery to all the applicants who have perfect scores once state regulators complete a scoring review and correction process that has been . Only veteran-owned applicants were eligible for perfect scores under the system devised by state lawmakers in 2019.
“We know that this law didn’t have the intent to give advantage to veterans, the intent was to give an advantage to those that were hardest hit by the war on drugs,” Ford said.
Then 55 licenses would be awarded to applicants who received at least 85 percent of the maximum points allowed, through a new lottery.
Another new lottery would award 55 more licenses to those who qualify as a new term: a “Social Equity Justice Involved Applicant.”
The new definition eliminates a loophole that permitted applicants to qualify as a “Social Equity Applicant” merely by employing people who reside in certain geographic areas or who have prior cannabis convictions.
The bill also allows for the five dispensary licenses that were permitted but never issued during the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which each allow for two locations.
Those five dual-site licenses will be issued via the third new lottery — the Social Equity Justice Involved Medical Lottery. This one would be open to both Social Equity Justice Involved Applicants and those who scored 85 percent or more on the 250-point January 2020 application.
Other changes in the 205-page bill include:
- Increased disclosure of ownership and control of cannabis businesses
- Allowing more community colleges to offer cannabis vocational training
- Eliminating the requirement that medical patients register at a single dispensary
- Permitting existing pot shops to relocate if local authorities approve
- Letting Social Equity Applicants or Social Equity Justice Involved Applicants to open retail locations within 1,500 feet of any dispensary operated by the owners of the original licenses