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New pot shop permits still in limbo as state prepares to announce final list of winners this week

During a Zoom hearing Wednesday, Judge Moshe Jacobius didn’t address his standing order holding up the lucrative licenses as he advanced two related lawsuits challenging the problematic process.

Illinois pot dispensaries saw their most successful month in June, with about $47.6 million in total sales.
Illinois is seeking to award 185 new pot shop licenses.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

A court order blocking the issuance of 185 new cannabis dispensary permits was left in place Wednesday, two days before state officials plan to announce the final list of winners and move into the next phase of the problematic licensing process.

During a Zoom hearing, Judge Moshe Jacobius didn’t address his standing order holding up the lucrative licenses as he advanced two related lawsuits, one of which has recently threatened to upend the rollout.

For nearly a year, a list of applicant groups behind the two suits have continued to pursue legal action to maximize their chances of winning the sought-after permits. And while four of those groups have been awarded at least one license so far, they all continue to raise legal questions about the process overseen by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The suits, as Jacobius noted, have been “consolidated” despite being “separate and apart.” But the complicated cases only got more convoluted on Wednesday.

Two of the groups that filed suit together, WAH Group LLC and HAAAYY LLC, now intend to file amended complaints that reflect their diverging issues with the state’s permitting push.

In part, their suit challenged the bonus application points granted to military veterans, which the startups have claimed created a special and illegal class of applicants. But after Jacobius issued an order last month granting WAH Group spots in the third and final license lottery — the only such drawing that required winners earn the veterans points — the firm scored two permits and signaled its intention to drop that argument.

Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Doug Rees, a lawyer for the defendants, explained that the IDFPR intends to issue a final list of license winners on Friday following a period that allowed designees to decline permits. That move will mark the start of a 35-day period for applicants to petition for administrative review.

A group of plaintiffs in the other suit have challenged the supplementary scoring phase of the application process. Although two of those firms have each earned a license, an attorney in the case said she’s still considering whether to take it up during the administrative review process.

WAH Group and HAAAYY are expected in court again on Sept. 23, while the next court date for the other applicants was set for Oct. 5.