Finally! Illinois awards 55 new recreational cannabis retail licenses

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Fifty-five recreational cannabis store licenses were awarded in Illinois, including 36 in the Chicago area, after a yearlong delay in actualizing the state’s vaunted social equity program.

Up to this point, existing medical marijuana operators have controlled the 19-month-old, billion-dollar adult-use market, while additional retail licensing has been tangled up in litigation.

An additional 130 retail licenses are to be awarded via two lotteries over the next month.

It’s uncertain how quickly the new licensees will be able to build out their stores, pass final inspections and start operations.

Then there’s the challenge of carving out a viable market share – although new entrants will be aided by robust market growth, with sales exceeding $100 million a month.

The existing MMJ operators that enjoy the first-mover advantage currently operate 110 retail stores.

The 55 new licensees were selected in a lottery out of 662 applicants, according to a news release by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The winners included a group, Westside Visionaries, headed by state Sen. Rickey Hendon, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Hendon is known for his advocacy efforts to increase minority ownership in the cannabis industry.

Another winner, according to Crain’s, was a company called Haaayy, which had sued the state over the application process.

Haaayy and the Wah Group, in fact, won a court stay this week preventing the state from issuing final licenses.

But Haaayy will drop that effort now that it has won a license, its attorney told Crain’s. It’s unclear what the Wah Group will do.