Illinois judge finally gives green light to 185 social justice cannabis stores

Illinois cannabis users may have noticed that social justice retailers were terribly hard to find.

The Illinois cannabis market will expand with the release of 185 new retail licenses to social justice applicants. On Friday, May 27, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Mullen ended a court-ordered license suspension that had blocked all new business from opening for nearly a year.

The earlier stay, ordered by Cook County Judge Moshe Jacobius last August, put the Social Justice licenses on hold while other Illinois applicants fought in court over their eligibility for Social Justice status. The suspension allowed 55 cannabis stores to open without Social Justice, while Social Justice applicants were forced to survive without revenue for the past 10 months.


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The Social Justice Slowdown in Illinois Cannabis Retail

Illinois started with a bang with the adult market, bringing in millions in sales from both local residents and visitors from neighboring states since the market opened on Jan. 1.

When the adult-use program began, state officials had previously announced an ambitious list of goals for integrating social justice into Illinois’ cannabis industry — and pursued those goals with varying degrees of success.

Gov. JB Pritzker made good on his promise to bring more cannabis justice to the state by overturning nearly half a million cannabis convictions. And licenses for processing and cultivation have been introduced smoothly and comprehensively. In fact, of the 40 conditional licensees awarded to craft breeders in Illinois, 80% of the owners identify as non-white and 88% as social justice applicants. Illinois also established a $30 million fund to help social justice licensees.

However, this success did not translate to the retail licensing program.


How cannabis owners can shape social justice

How social equity retail licenses will (and have) shaped the Illinois market.

With the addition of 185 new retail stores, the Illinois market is expected to grow more than 160%. This should open up new market dynamics.

Illinois cannabis consumers will have more locations to shop, along with the option for a more meaningful shopping experience knowing they are supporting a social justice retailer. This could affect their spending on cannabis. For example, this report shows that socially responsible consumer spending increased by 25% in 2021 – highlighting the unique patterns of a more conscious consumer.

Socially conscious cannabis users in Illinois have so far been denied the opportunity to donate their money to social justice retailers. Once this new wave of retail licensees starts opening stores, customers will finally have the ability to change their spending if they choose.

What we don’t know is when the 185 Social Justice Licensees will get the final all-clear. While the suspension is currently lifted, there is no guarantee that other companies that did not qualify for the state’s stock program will not file further lawsuits.

Many would-be business owners — both equity and non-equity applicants — still have a sour taste in their mouths about how the state initially evaluated their applications. Her criticism brought the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation under scrutiny, demanding corrective action.

In response, the state has created three more licensing lotteries, scheduled for summer 2022, to make up for the failed licensing launch.

Will Illinois social equity retailers finally get their time to shine?

Licensees who managed to stand the wait are overdue for their share of the state’s multi-million dollar legal cannabis industry. Meanwhile, those budding business owners who did not have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to maintain their dormant storefronts are the biggest victims of Illinois’ social justice slowdown.

The longer it takes to fix the problem, the longer Illinois cannabis users who care about supporting minority-owned cannabis companies may stay out of the legal market altogether.

Janessa Bailey

Born and raised in the Midwest, Janessa serves as the current culture editor of Leafly. She has a background in content, activism and African American Studies.

Janessa is the creator of Lumen and Seeds of Change.

Check out Janessa Bailey’s articles

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