Illinois pitches simplified approach to remove marijuana retail equity barriers

Illinois’ governor is proposing a simplified retail recreational marijuana application process with a low $250 fee in efforts to remove barriers for minorities affected by the war on drugs and for other social equity applicants.

The proposed rules also would require applicants to qualify under certain social equity criteria rather than just getting a scoring bonus.

State cannabis regulators said they anticipate opening an application window for 55 additional retail licenses in late summer or early fall, depending on when the proposed rules become permanent.

The move comes only a week after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the initial round of 100-200 recreational retail licenses in the state would be focused on applicants with marijuana-related convictions.

The Illinois program, once touted as a blueprint for social equity, has become bogged down in delays and legal challenges. Roughly 185 pending retail licenses are in limbo because of litigation.

In a news release, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the proposed changes – partly in response to feedback the state has received – will “make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses.”

The proposed rules reflect these significant changes:

  • The online application will ask for only basic information such as the name of the organization, list of principal officers and contact information instead of seeking detailed plans that often require expensive technical and/or legal assistance.
  • The application fee will be reduced from $5,000 to $250.

Approved applications will be included in a lottery later this year to select the 55 retail winners.

Applicants selected in the lottery will then have 45 days to prove they meet the social equity criteria.

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To qualify, the business must be majority owned by:

  • Individuals living in a disproportionately impacted area.
  • Individuals with a marijuana arrest record.
  • Members of an impacted family.

If an applicant fails to qualify, then the opportunity for a conditional license will fall to the next business drawn in the lottery.