For the first time since Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended all licensing April 30, the 700 applicants who applied for the 75 highly sought-after dispensary licenses in Illinois finally heard a government official speak about the delayed process.
On Thursday, June 11, Senior Advisor for Cannabis Control to Gov. J.B. Pritzker Toi Hutchinson told the Cook County Cannabis Commission that the awarding of licensing should start in mid-July.
All 75 licenses were supposed to be announced at once, but now some applicants may have to wait until August or September.
The Covid-19 pandemic and an the June 9 expiration date set for the tiebreaker rules delayed the licensing process.
“The hope is that we will know mid-July who actually won out right in their region,” she Hutchinson, “but we can’t admit there is a tie, until the permanent rule become permanent —and goes through that normal process.”
According to Hutchinson, the accounting firm hired to grade the applications had difficulty traveling during the pandemic, “which really slowed down everything on the dispensary side.”
The other delay came from making sure each and every application can be properly scored and recorded with the best metrics possible as evidence for any future lawsuit.
“At the end of the day,” Hutchinson in the online meeting, “the reason why this first round of licenses are capped, is because we have a demand study that says we can have up to 500 dispensaries in Illinois. We’re not going to have anywhere near 500 dispensaries. And that’s because the way we did it was different than every other way state did it. We wanted to try embedding the social equity principals, knowing that the minute we announce who this is, there’s going to be a lot of lawsuits that come.”
Hutchinson also told the Cook County Cannabis Commission she is aware the delays in licensing are hurting the same social equity applicants it is trying to help.
“I just want to encourage you to remind your continuants and the people who want it right now,” she said, “that the baseline is this: if the war on drugs is race specific, why can’t the remedy be race specific.”
Hutchinson reminded the Commission that the Illinois cannabis industry is going to grow with products that have nothing to do with dispensaries. She also repeated the mindset of the administration by saying that January 1, 2020, was not the destination. It was just the begging.
“You get to see now where the predatory behavior happened,” she said. “Where were there problems with the application process? Where can we change, or do we even want to do another point system thing? And we do that all with an eye on protecting future-market ability for people coming online. Because you don’t get to potential monopolization until you get to one dispensary for every 6,000 people. We’re going to have one dispensary for every 124,000 people. So, there is lots of room to grow.”
Hutchison is aware that officials from other states are watching how Illinois implements the first legislated reparations into action.
“If we would have opened the door and let everyone come in at the same time right now, we wouldn’t be able to test whether or not these equity measures actual work,” she said. “This industry is going to grow, and because it’s going to grow, it’s going to need all the things the other industry do. So while we’re not concentrating on licensure, which is important, we also need to figure out how to work together.”
Each applicant was permitted to apply for up to 10 licenses, and 50 points out of a possible 250 were awarded to those who qualified for social equity status.
To qualify for social equity status, at least 51 percent of an ownership group applying for a state license has to live in an area most impacted by the war on drugs, been arrested or had a family member arrested for a cannabis-related offense; or have more than 10 full-time employees, at least 51 percent of whom would otherwise qualify for social equity status.
“So I look at this entire thing truly as a mix of people justice reform, drug policy reform, and a case study on how can we come together and reinvest in these communities that we’re always told we don’t have enough money for.”
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