In an attempt to address the shortcomings of the 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, new legislation seeking to boost minority ownership in Illinois’ billion-dollar marijuana industry has been approved by the state’s House.
Proposal Calls for 100+ New Marijuana Licenses, Focuses on Social Equity Applicants
When Illinois’ historic Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act passed back in 2019–legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state–already-existing medical marijuana companies were prioritized in the first round of awarded licenses. What followed was an additional licensing lottery that unintentionally favored business owners with wallets thick enough to flood the pool with multiple applications.The result – predominantly white and wealthy leadership at the top of Illinois’ now billion-dollar marijuana industry.
“Instead of allowing the wealthy few to maintain control of this new industry, let’s give people in areas that have been left behind a real opportunity to start a local business that is owned and operated by members of the community,” thought Representative LaShawn Ford (D).
Social equity applicants, candidates from areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, were supposed to be granted that opportunity soon after the opening of Illinois’ legal market, but those plans were soon derailed. A 75-license lottery was included in the 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, but only 21 out of 900+ applicants received scores that made them eligible for entry. Major backlash followed, along with COVID-19, which halted the lottery indefinitely. Rep. Ford, the primary sponsor of House Bill 1443, plans to rework and further expand those licensing opportunities.
“The bill will correct a flawed license lottery system that has prevented minorities from ownership in the industry,” said Rep. Ford.
House Bill 1443 would create two new social equity license lotteries, awarding 55 licenses each, along with retooling the scoring system for the previous 75-license lottery – allowing formerly failed applications to be edited and rescored.
The legislation would also allow more minority business owners to enter into sought-after areas like Chicago’s Lakeview and Gold Coast by loosening zoning regulations for social equity applicants. Before, dispensaries couldn’t open within 1,500 feet of an already-existing shop. Now, a social equity applicant-owned store can exist within that radius.
The measure passed through the Illinois House on Tuesday in a 70-33 vote. As the bill moves to the Senate, Governor J.B. Pritzker is voicing support for the legislation.
“As a state that values making our laws reflective of our diverse communities, we must ensure that social justice is at the center of everything we do – and today, that means building upon our work of posing the most equity-centric cannabis law in the nation,” said Gov. Pritzker in a statement released following the vote. “By authorizing additional lotteries that are focused on social equity applicants, we’re ensuring that communities that have been left out and left behind have new opportunities to access the cannabis industry.”
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