The Richard J. Daley Courthouse

Here be where dragons lie for Illinois cannabis licenses. Credit: The Richard J. Daley Courthouse

Squeezed between a seemingly interminable license application process and a court case with more turns than the Minotaur’s Labyrinth, Illinois’ adult-use dispensary license lottery winners are watching and waiting to see if they’ll actually get those licenses. Many seem to believe that regardless of how the court case goes, they’ll eventually get the licenses they won through the July 29, August 6, and August 19 lotteries, but unsure how to plan for when those licenses will be activated.

“We aren’t assuming we have a license, but we think it would be a stretch where the state claws back the 185 winners,” said David Alport, co-owner of Bridge City Collective, a small multi-state operator with licenses in Oregon and Missouri, and a lottery winner of a dispensary license in Northwest Illinois. “I think the fact that there is this supplemental lottery round is an indicator of how they will deal with these issues moving forward.”

Alport’s guess – and that’s what it is, because the Illinois regulators aren’t providing insights on its intentions outside of court and the occasional press conference – depends on the fact that regulators have been trumpeting that they have legislative authority to create hundreds more dispensary licenses beyond the 185 stuck in the WAH v. IDFPR case currently holding up license winners. Last week, Toi Hutchinson, Illinois’ Senior Advisor to the Governor on Cannabis Control, announced they would create new licenses beyond the 185 to cure “clerical errors” in license lotteries.

Ambrose Jackson’s team, Parkway Dispensary, won both a craft grow license and were named a winner of dispensary license in the Danville area. While they also expect to eventually get a dispensary license, they’ve turned their attention to getting their craft grow operation up and running in Broadview, Illinois, as well as running a cannabis security company they started while waiting for a license to come through.

“We’re just in a holding pattern when it comes to the dispensary licenses. We think we will be awarded one, but we don’t know when,” said Jackson. “So, that makes it difficult for us in a number of areas, like securing a location for a dispensary, but even more difficult with securing the funding.”

Jackson said that many investors in their craft grow operation are interested in participating in the dispensary, so he’s not too concerned about financing in the long run. And for that reason, Jackson, who is Black, doesn’t think his group is like most license winners.

“We see ourselves as an outlier social equity team. When I look at a lot of who received licenses, you see a lot of names attached to current operators, out of state operators, and people with access to a lot of funds. Insiders and such. We don’t fit any of those boxes,” said Jackson. “We’re really trying to create a coalition amongst us. I truly believe that it’s going to be almost impossible for an independent operator to stay independent over time. You’ll have to either grow or sell.”

Another dispensary license winner, Hanah Jubeh, a labor activist with the Chicago AFL-CIO who is intimately familiar with Illinois government, was more resigned to fate. “I think from our perspective we don’t know what’s going to happen in the court process. What we need to do is continue to proceed as if the process will move forward,” said Jubeh. 

Her team, Canna Ventures LLC, won a license in the Chicago area, and they’d already identified a retail location before submitting their application, easing a major burden for many applicants.

“We had already identified a location where we would operate, so it’s just a matter of making sure our ducks are in a row,” said Jubeh.

Among the many license winners Grown In has spoken to – most who wished to remain anonymous until their license comes through – a sense of resignation permeates as they discuss their personal situation.

“I think everyone is a little fatigued, everyone. Except the large incumbents,” said Alport. “It has been a tough couple of years. The pandemic didn’t help. But for us, you don’t get this far in the cannabis industry without having a thicker skin, and it takes a lot of determination and perseverance.”

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Editor Mike is an itinerate reporter, recovering political consultant, and strategy game devotee.