The next set of Illinois cannabis dispensary licenses will be awarded in two groups starting in mid-July, said Senior Advisor for Cannabis Control to Gov. J.B. Pritzker Toi Hutchinson on Thursday to the Cook County Cannabis Commission. Over 700 applicants with over 4,000 filed applications have been waiting for the state to announce 75 new dispensary license winners, based on a point system. Delayed by Covid-19 mitigation efforts, state agencies have delayed the awards, which were to originally take place by May 31.
First, in mid-July, Hutchinson says, the state will announce dispensary license winners that won their geographic region outright as well as those with equal points in a tie breaker. Then, in September, tie breaker lotteries will be conducted. The September delay is because the original, emergency tie breaker rule expired on June 9. A new permanent rule was also filed June 9, but must now undergo two consecutive 45-day comment periods.
Commission Chair Bill Lowry also stated during the hearing that, “Craft grower, infuser and transport licenses, it’s being kicked back to mid-August.” Hutchinson did not correct Lowry’s comment, only to later say, “On the craft grow side..I don’t think the delay is going to be as significant as with the dispensaries. The craft grow side is well on its way.”
Hutchinson on future regulatory plans
The hearing was Hutchison’s first public comments on the status of the cannabis license process in months, and included an expansive testimony on her thoughts on social equity, the long-term future of licenses in Illinois, and cannabis regulation generally.
Generally, Hutchinson seems to view the state’s regulatory process as a series of experiments, and that the Pritzker administration is steeling itself for court fights.
“At the end of the day, the reason why this first round of licenses are capped, is because we have a demand study that shows we can support up to 500 dispensaries in Illinois,” said Hutchinson.
“We’re not going to have anywhere near 500 dispensaries. That’s because..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…If we had opened the door and let everyone come in at the same time, we would not have been able to find out if these social equity elements work. So, in my view this inaugural law is akin to a test case that had to happen, like before you got to Brown vs. Board of Education,” said Hutchinson, referencing the landmark 1952 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down segregation laws.
Hutchinson also seems to have a plan for more interventionist regulations.
“You get to see now where the predatory behavior happened. 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 while keeping 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 [after this first round]. So, there is lots of room to grow,” she said in her testimony.
“You can point towards predatory behavior, and then work with state legislators to pass legislation to prevent predatory behavior. We have laws on the books for financial predatory behavior…We don’t necessarily have those things directly tied to the cannabis industry.”