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Illinois Lawmakers Announce Plans for 75 New Cannabis Licenses

by Sarah Cawthon January 21, 2021

Lawmakers in Illinois are working on a plan to create 75 new cannabis dispensary licenses with the goal of giving minority and disadvantaged applicants a chance to enter the billion-dollar industry after they were excluded from the first round of licensing in the state. 

During the first round of licensing in 2020, licenses were only awarded to those with top scores and were then placed into a lottery system for a chance at winning one of the 75 licenses. However, 937 businesses submitted applications with more than 4,500 sites between them. Out of those, only 21 of those businesses qualified for the 75 available dispensary licenses, and many of those applicants received perfect scores for licenses in different parts of the state.

Due to the inconsistencies in the scoring process, the lottery was placed on hold as applications were rescored and no licenses have yet been awarded. The 21 applicants were also mostly wealthy and politically connected, which also drew red flags.

Additionally, no social equity applicants scored high enough to be placed into the lottery despite receiving bonus points on their applications for their social equity status. Social equity applicants were given that advantage during the process to allow them a chance to be part of the cannabis industry, which requires millions of dollars to participate in, after being disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Thus, the second process will allow for an additional 75 licenses, placing the total at 150 dispensary licenses, and a second lottery process. The second lottery that is created by HB 122 will be open to applicants from the 2020 application round who are eligible and choose not to participate in the first lottery and meet the requirements for the second lottery.

The second lottery process will be open to any applicant that received at least 75 percent of the total points awarded. Entities who applied during the last round will be able to use their existing dispensary application. By allowing those with at least 75 percent of the total points will guarantee that a broader range of applicants are eligible for the lottery while still upholding sufficient compliance with application requirements.

Additionally, the new round of licensing would also allow prior applicants to avoid reapplying or repaying fees. Applicants would also be limited to two applications to allow for more applicants to win licenses and prevent what happened during the first round.

Lawmakers hope the second round of licensing will help remedy the problems that were encountered during the first round that resulted in lawsuits and ultimately delayed the process. Currently, only previously licensed medical cannabis dispensaries have been allowed to open adult-use stores on their sites and second sites, but lawmakers hope to change that soon.