Long delayed pot dispensary licenses to be issued starting next month, officials say while announcing new tiebreaker rules

Other delayed licenses to grow, transport and infuse cannabis products will also be issued “in the near future,” officials said.

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The location represents the first cannabis retail shop to open near downtown Chicago and the first recreational-use only dispensary in the city. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Jordan Davis, a wellness advisor, shows products to a 55-year-old man from River North as he makes the second purchase at Cresco Labs’ seventh Sunnyside dispensary at 436 N. Clark St. on the store’s opening day in River North, Thursday morning, May 28, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

State officials announced Wednesday that new rules have been adopted to break ties between applicants seeking licenses to sell recreational weed, resolving an administrative hurdle that has contributed to a lengthy delay in issuing the new permits.

Charity Greene, a spokesman for Pritzker’s office, said the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is expected to begin issuing the 75 new licenses in September, more than three months after they were initially slated to be doled out.

Though monthly sales of recreational pot have continued to climb during the COVID-19 pandemic — with the state tallying a record $61 million in July — the public health crisis has stymied the issuance of all new cannabis licenses prioritized to the so-called social equity applicants the law was written to benefit. Now, the other licenses to grow, infuse and transport pot products are also expected to be issued “in the near future,” according to the IDFPR.

Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker’s top cannabis adviser, said the new guidelines approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules allow the dispensary permits to be handed out “in a fair manner.”

“The administration looks forward to completing this first round of applications in the coming weeks and beginning the disparity study that will ensure our goals of creating a diverse, equitable cannabis industry in Illinois are being met,” said Hutchinson, pointing to an upcoming report that will determine how many new licenses will be made available in the future.

Vincent Norment, an Englewood native applying for all the upcoming licenses, said he was relieved to learn the licenses would soon be issued.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Norment, a veteran of the U.S. Marines who said the delays haven’t taken a serious toll on his team’s finances.

But another applicant who’s up for 10 dispensary licenses said the holdup has impacted his business prospects.

“The delays have put me in a bind where I can’t make decisions on different business opportunities,” said Michael Malcolm, a real estate broker and pot blogger from Morgan Park. “I like to assure them that I will be there from start to finish and that’s just not possible with the uncertainty surrounding these licenses.”

Both Norment and Malcolm are seeking the licenses as social equity applicants, who will get a leg-up in the application process for living in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by past drug policies or having a pot-related offense on their records. Prioritizing those applicants was intended to bolster minority participation in the state’s overwhelmingly white weed industry.

And with the economy reeling in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Malcolm said it’s even more important to give minorities a chance to crack into the lucrative pot business.

“These licenses to Black and Brown people from the most affected areas are needed in the worst way right now,” he said.

On April 30, Pritzker signed an executive order delaying the new dispensary licenses that were supposed to be handed out the following day.

But the move ultimately gave way to another issue: Licenses are being awarded based on numerical scores, but the emergency rules for resolving ties among dispensary applicants expired on June 5. The new rules were only just adopted because state law requires a 90-day review period for them to go into effect.

Under the new rules, the IDFPR will publicly announce the applicants with tied high scores who can participate in a random drawing for conditional licenses.

The winners will then have 180 days to find a location to set up shop within the region they applied to operate, the IDFPR said. The 17 regions mirror those used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to gather wage and employment data.

What’s more, officials said the other cannabis licenses that have been delayed are now being “finalized.”

“The Illinois Department of Agriculture will announce award dates in the near future,” the IDFPR said.

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