Following a year of acrimony and delays, state officials on Wednesday announced that 53 firms entered in the state’s first pot shop lottery had earned the rights to 55 lucrative licenses.
The winners, selected from 626 finalists, include some firms already linked to the state’s pot industry and what appears to be a host of new players. Two more lottery drawings for 130 additional licenses will be held next month, giving other firms in the pool of over 900 total applicants more opportunities to score.
Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon spent much of the past year advocating for himself and other social equity applicants, a designation created to bolster minority ownership in the white-dominated industry. On Thursday, all the fighting paid off. His company, Westside Visionaries LLC, won a sought-after license in a region that covers Chicago.
“My daughter had me crying on the phone. We’re one of them praying families,” Hendon said. “Everybody’s just elated that we got a chance.”
Hendon led the charge last year when a group of social equity applicants pushed back against the state’s announcement that just 21 firms had qualified for a long-delayed lottery for 75 of the upcoming licenses, some of which included clouted and deep-pocketed individuals. Amid protest and lawsuits, Gov. J.B. Pritzker bowed to the pressure and announced a supplementary scoring process to expand the pool, which has now jumped to 133 groups.
Hendon and his ad-hoc coalition later teamed up to help draft legislation that Pritzker signed, creating 110 of the new permits and effectively clearing the way for the stalled licensing process to move forward. Another advocate for equity who helped write the law, Edie Moore, is a manager of KAP-JG LLC, which also won a license in the Chicago region.
But for some, Wednesday’s announcement was bittersweet.
Vincent Norment’s group, Parkway Dispensary LLC, won a license in a region around Danville, but infighting with his partners had already created an irreparable internal rift. After another company they started earned one of the 40 craft cultivation licenses awarded this month, he said his colleagues moved to force him out.
Norment now plans to sell his shares in the startups for up to $3 million.
“I’m excited on one part, and I’m disappointed that these guys didn't respect who I was and my worth and all that I contribute,” he said.
Though new players like Hendon and Norment are now getting a chance to profit, other winning teams include some of the first people in Illinois to cash in on legal cannabis. What’s more, a handful of out-of-stat pot firms also scored licenses.
EarthMed, which already operates dispensaries in Addison and Rosemont, was named one of the winners in the Chicago region. Another firm that won there, Joint Ventures 1 LLC, includes the former owners of Midway Dispensary, which sold its two Illinois dispensaries to Massachusetts-based Ascend Wellness Holdings as part of a recent deal that was reportedly worth over $25 million.
INLABS I LLC, a group that includes Springfield lobbyist Chris Stone, also earned a license in that region. As recently as April, Stone worked as a senior adviser to Ascend, which also bought out his former pot firm HCI Alternatives.
Two other companies that each won a license are managed by a firm linked to Matthew Estep, the co-founder of the Chicago-based pot giant Green Thumb Industries. Although Estep no longer works at GTI, he told the Sun-Times last year that he was still a shareholder.
A group led by Jeffrey Rehberger, the chief executive of the video gambling company Lucky Lincoln Gaming, grabbed a permit in a region near St. Louis, Missouri. Other winners include firms managed by Marjorie C. Laws, a retired Cook County judge, and David Dorgan, the former Elgin city manager.
Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker’s chief cannabis adviser, touted Wednesday’s results as a major step forward in the state’s efforts to create racial equity in the white-dominated weed business.
“We look forward to seeing businesses get off the ground and into this space,” Hutchinson said in a statement.
While the state was able to announce Wednesday’s winners, the licenses were temporarily put on hold after a Cook County judge issued a last-minute order in a lawsuit filed last year in Cook County.
The suit, brought by two firms that qualified for the first two lotteries, holds that awarding extra application points to veterans creates a special applicant class. Judge Moshe Jacobius ruled Wednesday that the first two drawings can proceed and the winners can be published, but the licenses can’t be issued before an Aug. 9 hearing is held.
One of the firms that filed suit, HAAAYY LLC, also won the rights to a license in the Chicago area.
A list of the license winners can be found here.