The saying goes, “No Speaker, no agenda.”
Yesterday, the Illinois House ended Democrat Mike Madigan’s decades long reign as Speaker of the House (he’s served since 1983, with only a two year interruption) with Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who, as a member, enjoyed support from the Black Caucus. That organization made changes to the state’s cannabis program a top legislative priority, so it seems likely to become a priority for Speaker Welch too.
While the new session started Wednesday, with no bills in the hopper, legislators have told Grown In that a legislative working group had been crafting changes to the state’s licensing system in the weeks prior. Early on Wednesday morning, the last day of the previous session, a draft bill emerged that lobbyists and activists say is likely to be the starting point for the new session.
“I think we’ll have language that will be agreed upon that will go forward in lame duck session, or soon thereafter in the new session,” said Rep. Kathleen Willis just before the new year.
[Download the Illinois cannabis bill analysis]
The keystone of the cannabis working group’s draft is a plan to create two pools of dispensary licenses, so-called “1A” and “1B” groups. The first group, 1A, would allow the state to conduct a lottery for the 21 applicants who advanced to the lottery stage for 75 licenses in September with no changes. The second group, 1B, would create another 75 licenses for the remaining applicants, who would continue through a supplementary discrepancy notice process. According to the proposed legislation, those 1B applicants who scored 85% or better, what has been called a “cut score”, would then advance to the lottery round. For 1A, only those with a perfect score advanced.
Legislators, working with the administration, are hoping the new plan will appeal to the two groups with pending lawsuits in Illinois, and that the legislation will lead to a settlement.
For those involved in the pending lawsuits, the 85% cut score has been a major issue. Earlier versions put it at 75%, which made it too easy to get into the lottery round, say applicants.
“85% gets closer to the merging realities,” said one person close to a legal team with a cannabis suit pending against the state who asked to remain anonymous. “You have a two lottery solution, which is an interesting way to solve it.”
Applicant advocates are not yet on board, says Natascha Neptune, president of the social equity applicant group, S.E.E.N., who is in Springfield lobbying this week.
“They changed the rules for qualified applicants so they would have cap restrictions. But there’s no restrictions for the people in 1A. Is that fair?” said Neptune. “There’s also no talk about when this lottery would take place.”
The proposed legislation also deals with a number of administrative issues that have been exasperating cannabis companies. The changes include allowing cannabis employees to begin work while their state identification card is pending, allowing dispensaries to move locations after their approval, and to allow products to be sold in “resealable” containers, instead of simply “sealed” containers.
In Missouri, a number of recreational legalization measures have been introduced in the House, including one by, Rep. Shamed Dogan, an African-American Republican from St. Louis County. Much like medical cannabis measures introduced in years past, recreational legalization bills have little chance of passage because of conservative opposition in the Senate, and that Gov. Mike Parson, a former Polk county sheriff (and deputy before that – bring back the stache!), has stated his opposition to recreational legalization.
Rep. Dogan, considered a savvy politician in Missouri, just a week after introducing a recreational cannabis legalization bill, announced that he was running for St. Louis County Executive. Not a bad way for a Republican to stand out in heavily Democratic St. Louis.
Last month, Michigan Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo talked about getting a merger bill introduced in the legislature this month. The Michigan state legislature kicked off its session this week with a bang, as the Republican Senate Majority leader revealed that he had Covid-19 last month, diagnosed on the 18th. But he apparently did not remember that he was also on the floor of the Senate on the 21st, talking to and hugging people on video.
Michigan observers tell Grown In that Covid-related issues, such as economic relief, and the state budget, are likely to muscle aside an MRA bill for some time.