Wanna open a pot shop in Illinois? Here’s how to apply

Up to 75 new dispensary licenses will be issued by the state by May 1.

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State officials posted an application Tuesday for the first round of licenses to sell recreational marijuana offered to prospective entrepreneurs that don’t already have a stake in the industry.

Applications for the conditional licenses will be accepted between Dec. 10 and Jan. 2 — a day after sales of recreational marijuana kick off statewide. Up to 75 new dispensary licenses will be issued by May 1, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Anyone can apply to open a store. The new shops will be able to sell all types of cannabis products — from marijuana flower to edibles to tinctures — to anyone over the age of 21. Applicants must pay a non-refundable $5,000 fee, far lower than what medical clinics paid. That fee is cut in half for social equity applicants.

Forty-seven of the new licenses will be doled out to businesses in a region that covers Cook, Lake, Will, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Grundy and McHenry counties. The rest of the state’s regions, defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are being granted between one and four licenses.


Dispensary license distribution by Bureau of Labor Statistics Region.

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

You’ll need to reveal anyone with an ownership stake in your company and present a detailed description of its management structure. And you’ll need a plan for security.

Once a conditional license is awarded, an applicant has up to 180 days to find a location in its district.

These licenses are in addition to those available for the operators of the state’s 55 medical pot shops, which have first crack at selling recreational marijuana. In addition to potentially converting those existing dispensaries into dual-use retail spaces, the firms will also have the opportunity to open standalone recreational stores.

But, given the regulatory issues that have arisen and the tight timeline between when the law was approved and when sales start, it’s unclear if all 110 shops will be open by Jan. 1.

While the 610-page pot law sets the framework for a vast expansion of the state’s legal cannabis industry, it also includes a series of provisions aimed at bolstering minority participation, reforming the criminal justice system and using revenues to invest in areas that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.

“As Illinois enters the next phase of its adult use cannabis program, we are committed to a process that is efficient, timely and most critically, continues to place equity at the forefront,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement. “From ensuring social equity applicants receive points on their application to providing grants and technical assistance, this is a process that does more than any other state in the nation to make equity a priority.”

Leg up for those ‘disproportionately impacted’

On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity released a map designating 683 Census tracts as areas “disproportionately impacted” by past marijuana enforcement policies.

Individuals applying for cannabis licenses will get an edge if they’ve lived in an affected area for five of the past 10 years or have been arrested for or convicted of a minor pot offense. Employers can also qualify if the majority of their workforce lives in those areas or has been arrested for or convicted of similar crimes.


More than 2 million people live in the impacted areas, which were identified by their high rates of poverty, unemployment and cannabis-related arrests, convictions and incarceration. The map includes large swaths of Chicago’s South and West sides, as well as portions of the south suburbs.

Sen. Toi Hutchinson, an Olympia Fields Democrat who was appointed last week as the state’s cannabis czar, said the goal of legalization “was to keep the ground fertile for people being able to enter into this emerging industry without as many barriers we saw existed in the medical program and what’s existed across the country.”

“It’s going to be fascinating to see where the applications come from, how strong the applications are and we’re going to have an eye towards making sure the intentions and the spirit of the law are carried out,” Hutchinson added.

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