Illinois legislature passes new law to expand cannabis licensing
More than 100 additional recreational marijuana dispensaries will come to Illinois under a law approved by state lawmakers last week. The measure, HB 1443, was approved almost unanimously by the state Senate Friday after being passed by a bipartisan House majority on Tuesday.
The passage of the bill in Illinois paves the way for the licensing of 75 adult cannabis pharmacies, which were due to open in May 2020 but were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure also includes provisions to assist social justice applicants in the selection process for 110 additional licenses for retail cannabis pharmacies. According to media reports, the Democratic governor JB Pritzker is expected to sign the law.
“As a state that values our laws to reflect our diverse communities, we must ensure that social justice is at the heart of everything we do – and that means building on our work today, the world’s most equity-focused cannabis law nation, “Pritzker said last week after the bill was approved by the Illinois House of Representatives.
The bill aims to resolve controversy with the 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalized the use and sale of cannabis for adults in Illinois. More than 900 applicants had applied for the 75 licenses that were to be awarded in May last year. However, when only 21 applicants got a perfect score on their application and qualified for a lottery to issue the licenses, the process was put on hold by state officials.
Two Illinois cannabis license lotteries are imminent
Since then, applicants have been allowed to correct their applications and submit them for re-evaluation. According to HB 1443, 55 new licenses will be awarded as part of a “Qualified Applicant Lottery”, which is only open to those who have achieved 85 percent or more approval in the application process for the original 75 licenses.
Another provision of the bill would offer 55 additional licenses for recreational marijuana dispensaries as part of a “Social Equity Justice Involved Lottery”. To be eligible for these licenses, applicants must be a qualified social justice applicant and achieve at least 85 percent on their application. Qualified social applicants apply for businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by a person who has lived in an area particularly hard hit by the war on drugs for at least 10 years, or someone arrested for a marijuana crime or criminal offense Marijuana-related act has been convicted, or the immediate family member of such a person has been convicted.
“By allowing additional lotteries that focus on social justice applicants, we are ensuring that communities that have been marginalized and left behind have new opportunities to access the cannabis industry,” said Pritzker. “This legislation also ensures that those least likely to already have a foothold in the industry see a bigger slice of the pie.”
As part of the original licensing process, most of the applications that received perfect ratings were from companies run by wealthy white investors. HB 1443 is designed to open the state’s cannabis industry to businesses run by members of colored communities who have borne the brunt of the cannabis ban over the years.
“Justice is at the core of cannabis legalization in Illinois, and this fundamental legislation will accelerate our shared vision to ensure that the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs can participate in this growing industry,” Pritzker said in a statement.
HB 1443 also enables licenses to be issued for five medical marijuana dispensaries. La Shawn Ford, Democratic MP, sponsor of the legislation, said that while the bill was a compromise, it would pave a way for members of the state’s black and Latin American communities to participate in the cannabis industry.
“I’m relieved,” said Ford. “I’m glad.”