Cannabis legalization is beneficial across the board, but most states have also understood the impact of prohibition and how that’s affected citizens across the country. The failed War On Drugs did little but raise incarceration rates and target marginalized communities. Lawmakers have specifically included provisions in cannabis bills to address social equity and bring more inclusivity to the industry, but this may have led to even more complications.
Cannabis legalization in Illinois has opened up a thriving industry. However, some craft growers have felt that the process of issuing licenses is unfair, leading operators to file lawsuits against the state.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois courts have held issuing licenses to craft growers in the state following a slew of lawsuits. Illinois’ Supreme Court ordered to pause awarding craft growers’ licenses until all cases are settled.
The decision came after marijuana company 837 Craft Grow LLC filed a motion to the lower court requesting a modification to the order preventing licenses from being awarded. The court ultimately denied the request, though they didn’t mention anything else.
The dispute began in 2021 when Illinois announced that they’d issue 60 craft marijuana licenses by Dec. 21st, but only 47 were named. The remaining 13 have been left in the dark, while another 13 have appealed their disqualification. Some of those who applied waited months for a response, putting up tens of thousands of dollars for property, investors, and employees. The dollar amount will continue to rise as litigation proceeds.
There’s been an extreme delay with licenses in general. Many businesses have been hit hard between complaints about what’s considered an unfair process to obtain licenses and the alleged secrecy in the selection process. However, the state did hand out upwards of 40 licenses before the court’s order. Fortunately for the few selected, they can move forward with their operations without being hindered by the court’s prohibition decision.
Like many legal cannabis operations in the retail market, a lack of diversity reflects the industry. Illinois’ decision to highlight social equity applicants, i.e., those who’ve lived in lower-income neighborhoods and have faced higher incarceration rates over cannabis, is in response to an industry dominated by out-of-state operators. The Tribune reports that many of these businesses are multi-state operators that got in the door in the years prior when the state legalized medicinal cannabis. Once Illinois legalized recreational adult use and stores were given the green light to operate, these same operators began to dominate the market, leaving little room for local cultivators to expand their business on their own stomping grounds.
There are currently 185 recreational dispensary licenses that’ll have to wait until the lawsuits are settled. This means that it might take a bit longer to find a dispensary close by that carries flower to fill up a marijuana glass jar.
The lead attorney in the appeal, Ryan Holz, blasted the decision to put licenses on hold. While he previously criticized the licensing process under the state government for lack of transparency in the application scoring, he made it clear that these rules and laws do little but harm every dispensary and business involved, including the 13 applicants who were disqualified. Describing it as the “current reality” for craft growers, he said there’s a lack of help towards the suffering businesses.
This hasn’t been a silent battle, either. Politicians and lawmakers have also chimed in on the application matter, including the office of Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Charity Greene, the spokesperson for Pritzker’s administration, stated that Illinois’ attorney general tasked the state with handing out licenses. Greene explained that the state was clear from the jump that they strived towards creating an equitable industry that welcomes Illinoisans “of all backgrounds.”
“From the very beginning of the cannabis legalization and licensing process, the administration has prioritized clarity and an ongoing commitment to establishing an industry that is accessible to Illinoisans of all backgrounds,” she wrote. “We will continue to work with applicants, stakeholders, and our partners in the judicial system to achieve that goal.”
The current status of awarding licenses might hinder the industry’s growth if not addressed promptly. According to MJBiz, Illinois’ cannabis industry is on pace to reach $2.4 billion to $2.9 billion in recreational sales by 2024, with another $310 million to $380 million raking in from medical marijuana.