Craft growers sue Illinois to release licenses

Cook County courts are crammed with craft cannabis cases. (Flickr/Jaysin Trevino)

One more cannabis lawsuit hit Illinois courts Tuesday as the Illinois Craft Cannabis Association (ICCA), a trade group of craft grow and infuser applicants, filed a petition to force Illinois government to issue craft grow and infuser licenses originally due by July 1. The lawsuit comes after ICCA met with state regulators last week to seek relief.

“The state has provided little information to applicants in regard to the status of their license [and] no clear communication for remedies for applications,” says Paul Magelli, president of ICCA, which represents 35 craft grow applicants. Magelli says craft grow and infuser applicants are spending $5 million a month to maintain property and staffs required of applicants, while they wait for their licenses. Since licenses are now almost four months late, they’ve spent $20 million and by October 31 many craft grow applicants will lose options on the properties required by their applications.

40 craft grow and 40 infuser licenses were supposed to be awarded by the Illinois Department of Agriculture by July 1, according to state law, but an executive order issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 29 delayed the license awards with no future date set by the state. Last week the department released a statement indicating there is no timeline for awards to the 455 craft grow and 115 infuser applicants. A department spokesperson affirmed Wednesday that there have been no new developments in the last week.

Filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the ICCA suit is a writ of mandamus directing the State of Illinois to immediately award craft grow, infuser and transporter licenses, and to release craft grow applicants of their staffing requirements to maintain social equity status. 

Magelli says his organization attempted to negotiate with the Pritzker administration, but instead was directed to attorneys for the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General’s Office. At no time was he contacted by Cannabis Czar Toi Hutchinson or David Lakeman, the recently appointed Cannabis Division Director for the Department of Agriculture.

“They are not accessible. They have chosen not to be accessible,” said Magelli. “That’s part of the frustration with this community. The administration appears to be in a bunker, unwilling to move forward.”

Like dispensary licenses, cannabis craft grow, infuser, and transport licenses were scored by accounting firm KPMG. Dispensary licenses have been held up by a handful of lawsuits either demanding the state change the scoring process or immediately conduct a lottery for 21 applicants that won a first round of scoring that Gov. Pritzker called faulty, and promised to fix.

Until the problems with dispensary licenses are resolved, government officials have privately said, the state is unlikely to move on craft grow and other licenses, because the risk of more lawsuits is too high.