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Lawmakers to Pritzker: Pot shop applicants will drop lawsuit if they can fix applications, challenge scoring

“As we suspect you have heard from many others, virtually no one is happy with how this is unfolding,” state Reps. La Shawn Ford and Kathleen Willis wrote in a letter to Pritzker on Sunday.

Customers buy marijuana products at a dispensary in Joliet in January.
Customers buy marijuana products at a dispensary in Joliet in January.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Two Democratic legislators penned a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday proposing a compromise to the potential legal standoff over the upcoming lottery for the next batch of pot shop licenses.

In pitching the plan to Pritzker, state Reps. La Shawn Ford, of Chicago, and Kathleen Willis, of Northlake, said the attorneys representing dozens of losing firms would drop a federal lawsuit seeking to halt this month’s lottery for the 75 new pot shop licenses.

In return, the Pritzker administration would need to give all losing applicants a chance to remedy discrepancies in their applications and address possible scoring inconsistencies.

Just 21 firms qualified for the lottery after submitting perfect applications. Though some of the applicants are clouted and seemingly well capitalized, they all qualified as so-called social equity applicants, a designation created to bolster diversity participation in the overwhelmingly white pot industry.

“As we suspect you have heard from many others, virtually no one is happy with how this is unfolding,” Ford and Willis said of the grading process, which has incensed other social equity applicants who invested considerable resources only to have their prospects go up in smoke.

Pritzker’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the proposal.

Ford and Willis said state law offers a “10-day cure period” to allow applicants to remedy mistakes with their applications. Although some candidates were able to revise their applications, the lawmakers noted that “plenty of applicants did not receive such an opportunity” and only learned they lost out when the lottery applicants were announced Sept. 3.

They added that inconsistencies in scoring present “[a]nother deeply troubling concern.”

“Teams that submitted identical exhibits sometimes received different scores,” Ford and Willis wrote. “Some of them were deemed perfect, whereas the same document submitted by other teams did not score the maximum points, disqualifying them from the lottery.

“The same was true for identical exhibits submitted by the same teams in different regions: the same team received perfect scores in some regions but was disqualified in others with the exact same exhibit.”

Given that there’s currently “no recourse” to address potential issues, they said the proposal would give applicants an opportunity “to point out the errors” to state officials.

The proposal would “help level the playing field” in the cannabis industry and “increase the participation of true social equity applicants,” the lawmakers said. However, they aren’t looking to remove the initial 21 qualifiers.

What’s more, the lawmakers added that a deal would resolve “legitimate complaints” and quash the potentially lengthy federal lawsuit — though they conceded another suit has been filed in state court.

The federal suit, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, names the Illinois Department of Financial Professional Regulation, which oversees cannabis dispensaries, and Bret Bender, deputy director of the agency’s cannabis control section. The initial complaint seeks to halt the lottery from taking place later this month and holds that many of the participants are “owned by politically-connected insiders.”

The suit began with just two entirely Black-owned firms and now includes over 70 plaintiffs.

Jonathan Loevy, the attorney who filed the suit, confirmed the suit and a related injunction will be dropped immediately if the IDFPR agrees to the terms outlined in the letter.

“The entire point of the lawsuit is to make sure that everyone eligible for the lottery is allowed to participate, no more and no less,” Loevy said in an email. “Despite indisputable evidence of mis-scoring, the State’s position is that there should be no review whatsoever, and no opportunity for anyone to challenge these mistakes.”

Ford and Willis have emerged as the de facto representatives for losing pot shop applicants, voicing their concerns to the governor in another letter and taking part in conference calls. Last week, they also announced plans to introduce new legislation to “make sure that true social equity is achieved” in the state’s booming weed industry.