SPRINGFIELD — Legislation revamping the state’s system for awarding licenses for marijuana dispensaries passed the House on Tuesday.
The measure is meant to address shortcomings in the 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, specifically in regard to a license lottery that was delayed for more than a year by the pandemic, controversy and legal disputes.
Amendments to House Bill 1443, sponsored by state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, would create two new marijuana-dispensary lotteries offering 55 licenses each while addressing lingering concerns regarding the original 75 licenses established in the 2019 law.
It passed the House in a 70-33 vote with bipartisan support, but also bipartisan opposition. State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, questioned whether Ford's bill accomplished the social-equity spirit of the initial marijuana-legalization legislation.
Under the bill, she said, “my dispensaries in Champaign-Urbana can be owned by a group from other states, taking the resources from Champaign-Urbana to Michigan, Ohio or some other state,” Ammons said. “I don’t do lotteries.”
Ford described his bill as the best way to increase the possibility of local minority communities in Illinois getting access to the booming marijuana industry.
“I wish I could write a bill that would guarantee that Black people wouldn’t worry about the things that we worry about today, and that there was justice for all,” Ford said.
The 75 licenses initially set by the 2019 law were supposed to be granted by May 2020, but were sidelined by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were later delayed again following backlash over how applicants were scored, and pushed back a third time following lawsuits by finalists of the initial lottery after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that applications that did not meet the cut could be edited and rescored.
Originally, the process as intended would award licenses in order of applicant scores, with tiebreakers for applicants who received the same score. However, after only 21 of more than 900 applicants received a perfect score, a hold was placed on the lottery system.
Under Ford’s legislation, the first new batch of 55 licenses would be offered through a “Qualifying Applicant Lottery” that would only be open to applicants who scored 85 percent or higher when applying for the first 75 licenses.
This would provide a chance to firms that did not receive a perfect score and were excluded from the initial 75-license lottery, and firms who did qualify for the initial tiebreaker lottery but have not hit the 10-license cap for applicants.
The second new batch of 55 licenses would be offered through a “Social Equity Justice Involved Lottery.” Those eligible must have scored 85 percent or higher on their submission and must also qualify as a social-equity applicant. That means 51 percent of the ownership must be someone who has lived in an area affected by the war on drugs for 10 years, have been arrested or convicted of a marijuana crime that is eligible for expungement, or be a member of a family affected by the war on drugs.
Another lottery of five licenses for medical-cannabis dispensaries would also be open to applicants who were eligible for the social-equity or qualifying lotteries.
According to Ford, based on his conversations with the Pritzker administration, the new scores for amended applications will be released and the initial lottery will be completed following the passage and signing of this bill.
“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,” Pritzker said in a statement praising the passage of the bill Tuesday.
Ford celebrated the passage in his own statement released after the vote.
“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,” he said.
HB 1443 now heads to the Senate, where the General Assembly has until Monday’s legislative deadline to pass it with a simple majority.