Legal cannabis in Illinois is worth billions, but social equity applicants are still waiting to get their foot in the door

As of January 1, 2020, cannabis has been legal for recreational purposes in Illinois. Since this time, the landlocked state has generated over $2 billion in revenue. 

However, despite the billions of dollars worth of economic inflation that has occurred post-legalization, Illinois has yet to issue winning licenses that were chosen as part of the state’s lottery system.

It’s been a long seven-month wait since the lottery winners were first chosen, meaning that not only are entrepreneurs stuck with open spaces that cannot legally be transformed into operational storefronts but also, Illinois is leaving some serious money on the table.

Nonetheless, Illinois is managing to harvest a generous sum of tax revenue from the cannabis industry. These funds are used to provide disadvantaged people with youth development, financial assistance, community reentry and legal aid.

Illinois promised to prioritize equity-focused applicants for its cannabis industry

Although social equity applicants were promised priority status from the get-go when applying for cannabis business licenses in Illinois, they are still left waiting. 

The 185 dispensary licenses that were selected as part of the Illinois cannabis lottery have been put on hold by a Cook County judge. Consequently, many people simply cannot afford to open their businesses.

It’s also important to note that it’s not just cannabis dispensary license winners who are left waiting — there is also a noticeable lack of licensed cannabis cultivators across the state.

The following statement was released by the State of Illinois:

“This announcement is for 55 new conditional adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses to be issued through a lottery process later this year. This streamlined process is the result of extensive discussions between the Pritzker Administration and stakeholders. Due to a court order, IDFPR cannot issue the 185 conditional adult use cannabis dispensary licenses to recipients selected in the 2021 lotteries at this time pending ongoing litigation.

“Adult use cannabis monthly sales figures may be found on IDFPR’s Adult Use Cannabis Program webpage or by going here. Tax revenue figures for adult use cannabis sales may be found on the Illinois Department of Revenue’s website.”

Rules for the legal cannabis market in Illinois will be updated in near future

Not much was previously done to overcome the obstacles that have prevented social equity applicants from getting an equal opportunity to participate in Illinois’ adult-use cannabis market. However, things are gradually changing. 

During mid-March, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation confirmed that it was submitting regulations to encourage a smoother execution of the cannabis dispensary license application process; in particular from social equity applicants.

“From day one, Illinois has been dedicated to leading the nation in an equity-centric approach to legalizing cannabis, and these proposed changes to the application process will make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses,” said Gov. Pritzker in an official news release.

He added that he was appreciative of all the feedback that has been provided by stakeholders since the cannabis program’s inception. This feedback, he says, “informed this proposal and is continuing to make Illinois’ growing cannabis industry the most equitable in the nation.”

Based on the newly proposed rules, applicants can fill out an application form online for a $250 fee. Various information must be provided by the applicant, including the name of their organization and contact details. 

Anyone who meets the eligibility criteria for the 55 new conditional cannabis business licenses in Illinois must meet social equity criteria in order to be considered for the lottery.  No more than one lottery entry is allowed by applicants and principal officers who apply for the new 55 conditional cannabis business licenses in Illinois as part of the lottery process.