‘An important day for cannabis equity in Illinois:’ New bill aims to address flawed licensing rollout, add 115 pot shop permits
State Rep. La Shawn Ford framed the planned bill as the next step in ensuring Illinois meets its goal of diversifying the white-dominated weed industry. But he acknowledged that work won’t be complete until “Black and brown people start making money.”
State Rep. La Shawn Ford joined a group of minority cannabis applicants Tuesday to announce plans for legislation that would address the state’s problematic marijuana licensing rollout and create up to 115 new pot shop permits in a move that could vastly expand Illinois’ weed market.
During a news conference outside Nature’s Care dispensary in West Town, the Chicago Democrat framed the forthcoming bill as the next step in ensuring Illinois meets its lofty goal of creating equity in the white-dominated cannabis industry. But he acknowledged that work won’t be complete until “Black and brown people start making money.”
Ford drafted the legislation with an ad-hoc coalition of cannabis advocates and so-called social equity applicants, who are given a leg-up in the application process in an effort to bolster diversity.
“Today is an important day for cannabis equity in Illinois as we announce a new, unified path forward that we believe will help the state finally realize the promise they made two years ago,” said Douglas Kelly, executive director of the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition.
There’s still not a single licensed marijuana business that counts a person of color as a majority owner, advocates say. And with all the state’s upcoming pot licenses delayed indefinitely after a series of lawsuits were filed last year over the scoring of dispensary applications, the existing operators of cannabis businesses were given an even longer head start to dominate the billion-dollar industry.
A draft of Ford’s legislation would most notably create 110 licenses to sell recreational weed that would be doled out over the course of two proposed lottery drawings — which would be held after the state’s long-delayed lottery for 75 outstanding adult-use dispensary permits. The draft bill would also require the state to issue five licenses to sell medical marijuana that would be issued through another lottery.
Those licenses would all be prioritized to qualifying social equity applicants, a designation created in the original law that legalized recreational cannabis. But Ford’s proposal also revises the qualifications for earning social equity status to more specifically target people of color and those living in areas disproportionately harmed by the drug war.
Edie Moore, the executive director of the influential Chicago chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told reporters that previous policies “have hindered our people from owning businesses in an industry that is increasing exponentially.” In addition, Moore said there were “serious flaws” in the implementation of the legalization law.
“We stand here now doing the work to resolve those flaws and redirect that implementation,” said Moore, who is part of two applicant groups that have already qualified for the delayed lottery.
Last month, Moore publicly sparred over the proposal with former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, another social equity applicant who stressed their unified front during Monday’s press event.
After previously slamming Gov. J.B. Pritzker over the marred licensing rollout, Hendon praised him on Monday for halting the process after outrage and legal action followed the state’s announcement that just 21 of the more than 900 applicant groups had qualified. Hendon said the governor ultimately told Black cannabis applicants to “unify and come to us with a solution.”
In a statement Tuesday, Pritzker’s office expressed support for the bill.
“We welcome the legislation proposed by Rep. Ford in coordination with community stakeholders that aims to address acknowledged shortcomings in the Act,” said spokeswoman Charity Greene. “Holding an additional lottery for conditional adult-use dispensary licenses will not only provide a path to participation in the industry for Illinoisans from all backgrounds but also provide high-scoring applicants from the first round an opportunity to gain a license.”
Ford said he intends to file the new language soon by adding to a “shell bill” that was introduced shortly after Ford’s push to create 75 additional dispensary licenses fell short during the lame duck session in January.