State regulators in Illinois announced on Wednesday that they will delay awarding licenses for 75 new recreational marijuana dispensaries because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) said that the licenses, which were scheduled to be awarded on May 1, will be postponed until after disaster proclamations from Gov. J.B. Pritzker expire or when the state sets a new date. The governor is expected to sign an executive order this week that will extend the state’s stay-at-home order and closure of nonessential businesses through the end of May.
Applications for the 75 retail licenses were due on January 1, the day recreational marijuana sales began in Illinois, with existing medical marijuana dispensaries receiving the first licenses to sell adult-use pot. More than 700 applications were submitted for the licenses, which were slated to be awarded on Friday. But Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker’s senior adviser on cannabis control, said on Wednesday that the applicants would have to wait longer because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The Pritzker administration remains committed to creating a legal cannabis industry that reflects the diversity of Illinois residents. We recognize that countless entrepreneurs were looking forward to May 1 and the next step it represented for Illinois’ adult use cannabis industry,” Hutchinson said. “However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in the application review process. This executive order will help ensure that we continue to build out this industry in a deliberate and equity-centric manner.”
Social Equity Applications Among Those In Limbo
Many of those waiting to find out if they have been awarded one of the 75 retail licenses qualify as social equity applicants who receive additional points on their application. Social equity applicants are people who live in an area adversely affected by the war on drugs and those with a marijuana-related conviction on their record and their family members.
One of those social equity applicants is Michael Malcolm, a pot blogger and real estate broker from the Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park. He is waiting to find out if any of the 10 applications he turned in will be successful.
“In the last month or so since I’ve been quarantined, it’s been heavy on my mind because the date was getting closer and I have less to do,” said Malcolm.
“So I have more time to get lost in my own thoughts and think about it,” he added. “And now, to know that it’s going to be pushed back is extending that.”
Malcolm said that while it’s difficult to make plans for the future without knowing when the licenses will be awarded, he knows that almost all businesses are facing uncertain circumstances.
“This is bigger than me and bigger than my opportunity and bigger than the opportunity for the cannabis industry,” he said. “Everybody is adjusting to this new normal.”During Pritzker’s emergency declaration, medical marijuana dispensaries have been considered essential businesses and allowed to remain open.
Earlier this month, the IDFPR announced that cannabis retailers logged nearly $36 million dollars in sales during the month of March, bringing the total since recreational pot was legalized on New Year’s Day to more than $110 million.