Judge allows Illinois to issue licenses for 185 new cannabis stores

After nearly 10 months of delay, a judge on Friday ended a court order preventing Illinois from issuing 185 new recreational cannabis store licenses — though further litigation could jeopardize those licenses again.

Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Mullen lifted the stay issued last year, allowing the state to begin licensing new businesses, many of which were started by black and Latino owners.

The decision means businesses that have spent thousands of dollars to stay alive without income can now take steps to open up, including finalizing zoning approval, buying or renting real estate, ordering supplies and hiring staff. employees. This process can take several months to over a year before stores open.

The courts had barred the licensing while reviewing lawsuits from companies who argued they were unfairly barred from lotteries to award the licenses. State officials are planning a corrective lottery to give these plaintiffs another chance to win a license.

According to the law, the first 75 licenses were supposed to have been issued two years ago, but were delayed by licensing application scoring issues, resulting in just 21 companies qualifying for a licensing lottery on more than 700 candidates.

“People are super excited to move forward,” said attorney Ryan Holz, who represents companies vying for new licenses, as well as others who have been barred from licensing lotteries.

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But, he warned, there is also a real concern that companies that have been excluded could seek a new court order to suspend licenses again.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which licenses pot dispensaries, released a statement that it plans to release detailed information on next steps for applicants as soon as it receives guidance in the framework. of a federal trial. This case involves a challenge to state residency requirements for dispensary owners.

“Today is a key development toward our ultimate goal of creating the most diverse, inclusive and robust adult-use cannabis industry of any state in the country,” said agency secretary Mario Treto Jr. “We are ready to move forward quickly in securing Illinois’ position as a national leader in advancing cannabis equity.

Black and Latino applicants have complained of being unfairly kept out of the legal cannabis trade in Illinois, where only 21 large grower licenses have been issued, almost entirely to white owners, including several have come to dominate the industry nationally.

To ensure fairness for all applicants and correct any errors in the lottery process, the state agency announced that it is also working on finalizing plans for three corrective lotteries to be held in June – one for each. dispensary sweepstakes held in 2021. Updates will be available on the agency’s adult cannabis use website.

The legal quashing of the case came after one of the companies suing the state for the licensing process, WAH Group LLC, asked to end the ban on new licenses. The company, represented by attorney and co-owner Mazie Harris, has secured the rights to three licenses, so it should benefit from moving the process forward.

WAH’s request also noted that Cook County Judge Celia Gamrath in another cannabis licensing case warned that it could take months or years to resolve ongoing litigation.

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