Illinois updating marijuana license lottery following criticism from social equity applicants

Illinois Recreational Marijuana

CHICAGO — Protesters gathered outside the Thompson Center Tuesday, reacting to Governor JB Pritzker’s admission that the state fell short in equitably granting recreational marijuana licenses.

“We’ve been fighting this war on our drugs in our community for more than 50 years and I think it’s time we should progress in this industry,” said William Bishop, a social equity applicant and Marine veteran.

The law legalizing marijuana for recreational use last year was intended to be a first of its kind in the world, addressing social equity while allowing entrepreneurs the chance to build a business in a new industry.

The process was also meant to be simple. Applicants vying for 75 adult use recreational marijuana licenses in the first round were awarded points based on whether they met certain criteria. This included being a racial minority, veteran, Illinois resident or resident from the community in which the business would be serving. A perfect score is 252.

When the list of applicants qualifying for the next stage of consideration came out, there was an uproar from many social equity applicants after only 21 of 700 applicants received the perfect score. Many of them said only well-connected and well-funded applicants with existing ties to the cannabis industry received the highest marks.  

Governor JB Pritzker admitted the process has been “far from perfect” Tuesday, as the state updated the licensing process in response to complaints.

“We’re only nine months into this and we have a long way to go,” said Toi Hutchinson, Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer.

Lawmakers past and present, along with many social equity applicants, praised Pritzker for putting a pause on awarding the first round of licenses due to concerns over the scoring. The process will now allow applicants to revise their applications if they lost points due to an error.

“We’re getting closer. We’re not perfect. We still have a long way to go. The governor did what we needed to do.  And we’re going to do some type of fix with these applications,” said Illinois Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-77th District).

Those in charge of implementation say the law is doing what it was intended to do, and the slow roll-out ensures any flaws can be fixed. Scoring by the consulting firm KPMG, which was paid $7 million by the state, was called into question.

Protesters also called on the state to open up all 110 available licenses, beyond the 75 set to be awarded for now.

“I encourage all of the applicants to stay strong and stay engaged,” Illinois Rep. Lashawn Ford (D-8th District).

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