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Illinois Judge Lifts Injunction on Issuing Cannabis Dispensary Licenses

A judge in Illinois lifted an injunction against the state from issuing recreational pot retailer licenses last week after more than a year of delay. This ruling was issued by Michael Mullen of Cook County Circuit Court. However, it could open the door for the state to issue 185 licences for adult-use cannabis dispensaries.

Mullen ordered an immediate halt on the issuing of recreational marijuana licenses last year. The decision was made after several lawsuits had been filed against the process. Applicants claimed they were excluded from the lottery that awarded the permits. To give plaintiffs another chance at obtaining a license, state cannabis regulators authorized a new lottery.

Mullen lifted the suspension on Friday. This allowed the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations (IDFPR), to grant the 185 conditional adult cannabis dispensary licences. The IDFPR released a statement after the ruling stating that they would provide detailed information about the next steps for applicants after it received guidance from a federal court in relation to a similar case.

“Today is a key development toward our ultimate goal of creating the most diverse, inclusive, and robust adult use cannabis industry of any state in the country,” IDFPR secretary Mario Treto Jr. said in a statement from the agency. “We stand ready to swiftly move forward in ensuring Illinois’ standing as a national leader in the advancement of cannabis equity.”

The creation of an equitable cannabis industry in Illinois

Black and Latino entrepreneurs had argued that the state’s process for issuing adult-use cannabis licenses has failed to produce a regulated weed industry that reflects Illinois’ diversity. The state law required that the initial 75 dispensary licenses be issued two years prior to their actual award. Unfortunately, the scoring of the applications was not perfect and only 21 out 700 qualified to take part in the lottery to win the licenses.

Mullen lifted the suspension after WAH Group LLC (one of the plaintiffs) asked for an end to the prohibition on the issuing of new licenses. Since the company was awarded the right to three licenses it makes the lifting of the ban more advantageous for the plaintiff.

Ryan Holz, an attorney who represents other businesses that have also won licenses and some applicants who were excluded from lotteries, praised the judge’s decision to lift the stay.

“People are super excited to move forward,” Holz told the Chicago Tribune.

However, he cautioned that any additional business not covered by previous lotteries could ask for a fresh injunction. WAH Group also noted in its court request that Cook County Judge Celia Gamrath had stated that it could take several months to settle a separate case for cannabis business license.

J.B. Pritzker of Illinois announced, in March, that the IDFPR would be enacting rules to make dispensary applications easier and reduce barriers for applicants with social equity. Noting that the agency is required to issue another 50 recreational weed dispensary licenses by the end of the year, the governor’s office said that the “Pritzker Administration is committed to ensuring the new legal cannabis industry reflects the diversity of the state.”

“From day one, Illinois has been dedicated to leading the nation in an equity-centric approach to legalizing cannabis, and these proposed changes to the application process will make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses,” Pritzker said at the time. “I appreciate all the feedback we have received from stakeholders since the start of the cannabis program, whose work informed this proposal and is continuing to make Illinois’ growing cannabis industry the most equitable in the nation.”

Last week, IDFPR reported that plans are being finalized for three corrective lottery to issue cannabis licenses. This will be one for each lotteries in 2021. The next month is scheduled. Details on those lotteries will be released on the agency’s website once plans are finalized.