Proposal for 110 new recreational marijuana stores passes Illinois House. Legislation would allow neighborhood competition, boost minority ownership.

·3 min read

A proposal that could open trendy areas to new minority-owned marijuana shops took a major step closer to reality Tuesday, as part of a bill to create 110 new recreational cannabis dispensary licenses.

The Illinois House of Representatives voted 70-33 to approve a bill that now will go to the state Senate, with the support of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who issued a statement calling for Senate approval.

One late amendment to the bill was to allow social equity applicants, meant to apply primarily to minority investors, to open a new shop within 1,500 feet of an existing shop. That change was meant to allow new businesses to compete with established stores that already locked in prime locations, such as Chicago’s River North and Wrigleyville areas. Sponsors said only one new store is allowed in a 1,500-foot radius, to prevent a cluster of such shops.

The primary goal of the plan is to increase minority participation in the billion-dollar industry. Although state lawmakers legalized recreational cannabis sales effective last year, there are still no marijuana businesses in Illinois that are majority owned by Black, Latino or women investors.

The new licenses would be in addition to 75 other new recreational dispensary licenses that were supposed to be awarded last year. But that program has been delayed indefinitely, first due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then by complaints that the scoring process was unfair and resulted in wealthy white applicants again dominating the process.

To address those concerns, the new bill would call for three lotteries for people who applied for licenses last year. The first would be for the previously allotted 75 licenses, after applications have been rescored. The second lottery would be for those who score 85% or higher on the application.

The third drawing would be for “social equity justice involved” applicants, meaning people or those with immediate family members who had a minor cannabis arrest or conviction, or people who live in designated areas with substantial poverty, or high rates of arrest and imprisonment for cannabis. It would eliminate the loophole that allows owners to merely hire people from designated areas to qualify for the social equity advantage.

“We believe that (the bill) will increase the chances greatly for diversity in the cannabis emerging market,” sponsor Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, said. He called it a “compromise” bill that didn’t please everybody, but fixed major problems with the existing law.

Some Black lawmakers voted against the measure. Rep. Carol Ammons, a Democrat from downstate Urbana, noted that it limited at two the number of new licenses social equity applicants could hold, while first-round lottery participants can get up to 10 licenses.

One big change for medical marijuana patients would allow them to go to any dispensary, rather than choosing only one at a time. And Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat who opposed legalization, added a measure he said was meant to require the disclosure of ownership of marijuana licenses, reversing the current secrecy in the law.

Rep. Tony McCombie, a Republican from Savanna, voted against the bill, noting that while it would expand the number of pot stores, it would do nothing to increase production, which is limited to 21 full-size cultivators statewide, and 40 craft growers who are still awaiting licensing.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting