On Thursday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed into law HB 1443, a bill that would ensure more than 100 cannabis business licenses go to equity applicants.
Today, the state’s adult use industry remains dominated by the same large, national operators that controlled the state’s medical cannabis industry, like Cresco Labs, whose founder and CEO Charlie Bachtell served on a Pritzker transition team that worked on cannabis.
When adult use cannabis was legalized, in 2019, the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, called it “the gold standard,” as Cannabis Wire reported at the time. Before signing the bill, Pritzker said in a statement: “The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation.”
As equity has failed to materialize, HB 1443 aims to course correct by creating two new lotteries that would award 55 licenses each, and by ensuring that another 75 licenses held up since May 2020 and intended for equity applicants are ultimately awarded. The bill will also allow for these new businesses to be located within 1,500 feet of existing shops.
“Existing dispensary owners, all non-minorities, have already taken many of the prime locations in the state,” Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “Dispensary owners from disadvantaged communities deserve a fair chance to make a profit by having access to lucrative business locations and not being locked out by distance requirements.”
The 2019 law put existing medical cannabis operators at the front of the line for adult use licenses, and called for a lottery through which 75 new licenses would be awarded by mid-2020, with a focus on equity. But of the hundreds of applications that came in for the lottery, fewer than two dozen qualified. This led to a two-part backlash: those who didn’t qualify were allowed to resubmit, which delayed the awarding of licenses, and lawsuits mounted from those who did qualify.
Under HB 1443, social equity applicants who applied for one of the 75 licenses and who scored 85 percent or higher can enter the “Qualifying Applicant Lottery.” The “Social Equity Justice Involved Lottery” is reserved for social equity applicants with a similarly high score, but must be majority-owned by someone who has lived for at least five years in the past decade in an area disproportionately impacted by the drug war, or who has been arrested for a cannabis offense (or a close family member has).
As Cannabis Wire reported in 2019, some of the highest-valued cannabis companies in the country lobbied on cannabis as the adult use legalization bill moved through the legislature. And, since then, as Cannabis Wire has reported, there has been skepticism among members of the Black Caucus about who would benefit from adult use, and disagreement about how best to address those concerns.
As the bill advanced in the legislature, Pritzker reiterated his sentiments from 2019, and framed the legislation as “building upon our work of passing the most equity-centric cannabis law in the nation.”