Illinois Judge Rules Against Craft Cannabis Growers Seeking Immediate Licenses

The craft grower licenses were supposed to be awarded by July 1 of this year to comply with state law.
Illinois Judge Rules Against Craft Cannabis Growers Seeking Immediate Licenses
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An Illinois judge has ruled against more than three dozen applicants for craft cannabis cultivator licenses who filed suit against the administration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker for a delay in awarding the licenses. The craft grower licenses were supposed to be awarded by July 1 of this year to comply with state law, but state officials have not yet done so, citing delays necessitated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The delay has affected the issuance of 40 craft grower licenses, as well as licenses for cannabis infusers, transporters, and 75 additional recreational cannabis retailers, which were supposed to be issued by May 1.

Cook County Judge Allen Walker issued the ruling on December 24 in the suit brought by the Illinois Craft Cannabis Association, which sought a decision directing the Pritzker administration to issue the licenses immediately. In the ruling, Walker wrote that the first emergency order issued by Pritzker to delay awarding the licenses was insufficient. But the judge also ruled that a subsequent order issued by the governor that clarified the delay was ordered because the agency tasked with issuing the licenses, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, was focusing its efforts during the pandemic on protecting the food supply, including livestock and meat production facilities. 

“While (the later order) does not explicitly say: ‘IDOA’s issuing cannabis licenses by the (deadline) would have the effect of diverting needed resources from the pandemic effort thus making it more difficult for the governor to cope with the COVID-19 crisis,” Walker wrote in the order, “that is the point implicitly being made.” 

Trade Group Files Suit

The craft growers trade association filed suit against the Pritzker administration for the delay, citing mounting costs for applicants to rent and maintain facilities for their proposed cannabis operations. The suit claims that Pritzker’s order is unlawful because it failed to identify a sufficient legal basis for the delay and did not set a new deadline for the issuance of the licenses.

In addition to seeking immediate issuance of 40 craft grower licenses, 40 cannabis infuser licenses, and an unlimited number of transporter licenses as specified by state law, the suit seeks allowances for applicants who have lost business sites, employees, or other factors of their licensing plans because of the pandemic.

Paul Magelli, a spokesman for the Illinois Craft Cannabis Association, said the group is “considering an appeal given the weakness of the judge’s order.”

“We plan to decide early this week,” Magellis added.

Although the Pritzker administration has yet to announce when the licenses will be awarded, it issued a statement about the delay in October after the suit was filed.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the extension of the application deadlines have led to an extension of the scoring process,” said Pritzker spokesperson Charity Greene. “The Department of Agriculture remains committed to ensuring that scoring of applications is conducted in a fair and equitable manner and is currently in the final stages of completing the scoring process in accordance with the Act and rules. The Department will announce the date licenses will be awarded in the near future.”

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