New marijuana shops need ‘true social equity,’ lawmakers say in pitching change to weed law
State Rep. La Shawn Ford said many applicants for dispensary licenses lost out after exhausting their life savings “chasing this dream.”
As losing applicants for new pot shop licenses continued to raise alarms about the application process and an upcoming lottery to determine the winners, two Democratic lawmakers outlined plans Wednesday to formally review the scoring system and introduce new legislation to “make sure that true social equity is achieved.”
During a Zoom call with a group of scorned social equity candidates, state Reps. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) and Kathleen Willis (D-Northlake) said they are formulating a “trailer bill” to introduce during the fall veto session that will reflect the litany of concerns from would-be pot shop operators.
Willis noted that Illinois had the opportunity to “set the examples for the other states” on how to use cannabis legalization as a tool to restore communities and involve minorities and women in the booming pot industry. Ford added that many social equity candidates lost out after exhausting their life savings “chasing this dream.”
“We were anticipating some really great results that we could hold up for the rest of the nation to see Illinois did something right,” Willis said, pointing to last week’s announcement that just 21 applicant groups were included in a lottery later this month. “And unfortunately, we didn’t see that.”
The Zoom call comes a day after Ford and Willis joined a group of advocates and applicants for a news conference at the Thompson Center and penned a joint letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker raising a list of concerns about how the application process shook out.
Though Ford and Willis would like to put the breaks on the lottery to review the process and probe the global accounting firm given a no-bid contract to grade the applications, Pritzker on Tuesday said it’s not legally possible to halt the drawing.
On Wednesday, Ford noted that the legalization law provides that official decisions are subject to “judicial review,” which he said was “important.” Some applicants have already taken legal action to hold up the lottery.
The lawmakers included a list of potential provisions to better define “genuine social equity applicants,” including requiring those candidates to live in a “distressed community” for at least 10 years and exempting those who live out of state or earn social equity status “on a promise to hire.”
The loose plan would also require the state to return expenses to all social equity applicants who recently lost out and limit the number of licenses social equity applicants can apply for. What’s more, Willis proposed further limiting the 10 dispensary licenses a single entity can currently hold.
Applicant groups that earn additional points for teaming with military veterans also shouldn’t win out over other groups simply for that reason, Ford said. The current batch of 21 applicants included in the lottery all earned perfect scores, meaning they all included veterans.
Before opening up the floor to a handful of concerned applicants, Ford noted that these proposals are merely a jumping off point.
“Those are just ideas and that’s how bills become law,” he said. “They start with ideas and that’s where we’re at right now.”