Illinois Cannabis License Lottery Winners Questioned by Applicants

Illinois continues to face issues with its cannabis license lottery system, as recently denied licensees are questioning the latest winners.

Officials in the state of Illinois concluded the last of three rounds of cannabis retail license lotteries, leaving many applicants without a license and left to question if social equity was ignored during the process.

The first of the lotteries, called the “Qualifying Applicant Lottery,” was held July 29, 2021 and chose from over 600 total applicants. It awarded 55 conditional use licenses to those who applied and “received a final score of at least 85 percent of 250 application points available.” The second lottery again awarded 55 more licenses on August 5, and narrowed down eligible applicants by removing those who only qualified as employees rather than owners.

The third and final lottery was held on August 19, referred to as a “Tied Applicant Lottery,” with 75 recreational cannabis license winners officially announced by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, chosen out of a pool of 135. During the selection process, there was supposed to be special consideration to take social equity into account on a points-based system. 

“After all of the lessons learned so far, we know that our fight for equity will continue at each phase to ensure that the hopes of this historic law are true to its promise,” said Senior Advisor to the Governor for Cannabis Toi Hutchinson in a press release. “Nearly two years ago, high scoring applicants did not know what their future in the Illinois Cannabis industry would be. After the tireless work of the Pritzker Administration, lawmakers and stakeholders who would not give up on the possibility of an industry that looks like our state’s incredible diversity, this third lottery puts us closer than ever to making the dreams of so many a reality.”

On the contrary, many of the chosen license winners are accused of not being diverse enough, and it’s been alleged that many of the winners have political connections that helped them win their licenses.

Two military veterans and social equity applicants, Jermell Chavis and Keith Smith, held a conference on August 20 regarding the questionable results. They were accompanied by Representative La Shawn Ford, a cosponsor of House Bill 1443, which aimed to establish rules to ensure social equity is achieved.

“This entire process smells of clout, collusion, political ties and ties to big cannabis,” said Chavis, a Marine veteran and social equity applicant. According to the Chicago Tribune, he is asking the state to review operating agreements to ensure there aren’t any suspicious owners. Likewise, Smith also wasn’t chosen for a license. He believes there should have been a maximum number of applications that a single company could enter into the lottery.

Some license winners include Allen Iverson and Al Harrington of Viola Brands and AmeriCanna Dream LLC whose partner is Cook County Commissioner Bridget Degnen, among many more.

Although the third and final lottery has concluded, licenses won’t be immediately awarded until Cook County Judge Moshe Jacobius rules on a pending lawsuit regarding the process and applicant WAH Group LLC. On August 16, WAH Group LLC was granted entrance into the final lottery where it won two licenses.

Jacobius believes his decision could cause the entire process to be redone. “We can’t predict the future. And counsel says that if you ultimately rule that the whole structure was improper, then the whole thing will have to be redone over again,” Jacobius said. “That may very well be, but I can’t anticipate what’s going to happen. And that’s just the most extreme thing that can happen. It might happen. It’s very possible. But then, everybody then would be subject to just another application process or another lottery, who knows what.”

Jacobius is expected to make his final ruling on September 1.

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