Illinois Legislature Passes New Bill to Expand Cannabis Licensing

State lawmakers in Illinois passed HB 1443 in an effort to potentially license more than 100 adult-use cannabis dispensaries.
Illinois Legislature Passes New Bill to Expand Cannabis Licensing

More than 100 additional recreational marijuana dispensaries will be coming to Illinois under a bill approved by state lawmakers last week. The measure, HB 1443, received nearly unanimous approval from the state Senate on Friday after being passed by a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Passage of the bill in Illinois clears the way for the issuance of licenses for 75 adult-use cannabis dispensaries that were scheduled to be awarded in May 2020 but were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure also includes provisions to support social equity applicants in the selection process for 110 additional retail cannabis dispensary licenses. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the legislation, according to media reports.

“As a state that values making our laws reflective of our diverse communities, we must ensure that social justice is at the center of everything we do—and today, that means building upon our work of passing the most equity-centric cannabis law in the nation,” Pritzker said last week after the bill was approved by the Illinois House of Representatives.

The bill is designed to rectify controversies with the 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalized the use and sale of adult-use cannabis in Illinois. More than 900 applicants had vied for the 75 licenses that were supposed to be awarded in May of last year. But when only 21 applicants received 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 Cannabis License Lotteries Upcoming in Illinois

Since that time, applicants have been allowed to correct their applications and submit them to be rescored. Under HB 1443, 55 new licenses will be awarded through a “Qualified Applicant Lottery” open only to those who scored 85 percent or higher in the application process for the original 75 licenses, allowing those who did not receive a perfect score another chance at receiving approval.

Another provision of the bill would offer 55 additional recreational marijuana dispensary licenses under a “Social Equity Justice Involved Lottery.” To be eligible for those licenses, applicants must be a qualified social equity applicant and score at least 85 percent on their application. Qualified social applicants apply to businesses with at least 51 percent ownership by someone who has lived in an area especially hard-hit by the War on Drugs for at least 10 years, or a person arrested or convicted of a marijuana-related crime eligible for expungement, or the immediate family member of such a person.

“By authorizing additional lotteries that are focused on social equity applicants, we’re ensuring that communities that have been left out and left behind have new opportunities to access the cannabis industry,” Pritzker said. “This legislation further ensures those least likely to have already had a foot in this industry will see a bigger piece of the pie.”

Under the original licensing process, most of the applications that received perfect scores were from companies led by wealthy, white investors. HB 1443 is designed to open up the state’s cannabis industry to companies led by members of communities of color, which have borne the brunt of cannabis prohibition over the years.

“Equity is at the core of cannabis legalization in Illinois, and this essential legislation will accelerate our collective vision to make sure that the communities harmed the most by the war on drugs can participate in this industry as it grows,” Pritzker said in a statement.

HB 1443 also allows for the issuance of licenses for five medical marijuana dispensaries. Democratic state Rep. La Shawn Ford, the sponsor of the legislation, said that while the bill is a compromise, it gives members of the state’s Black and Latino communities a path to participation in the cannabis industry.

“I’m relieved,” Ford said. “I’m happy.”

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