All 40 IL craft grow licenses are veteran-led, says state; No scores until Dec.

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The Illinois Department of Agriculture building, back in the 1970’s.

All forty of the Illinois craft grow licenses awarded two weeks ago went to veteran-led teams, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office admitted to Grown In this week. The revelation comes as applicants have been attempting to piece together who won licenses and under what conditions, since the state has also declined to release applicant scores.

Veteran-led status for licenses has become a flash-point in Illinois, since seventy-five dispensary licenses, originally set to be issued in September 2020, have been held up by a pair of court cases contending that scoring favors veteran-led teams, making the Illinois dispensary license process federally unconstitutional. A new lawsuit filed last week, levels another charge that the dispensary license process is unconstitutional because it favors Illinois residents over those from other states.

Last week, both winning and losing craft grow applicants, concerned their license scoring system was skewed by “veteran points”, networked furiously to figure out who won, and under what circumstances. Multiple applicants told Grown In that they submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for their scores, in an attempt to understand how they won or lost a license. Those requests were all denied by the state, raising even more questions.

“At this time, the Department is not releasing scores for any application because the final selection of all available licenses has not yet occurred,” says a notice posted last week on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website. “Applications for licenses under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“CRTA”) remain in the competitive scoring process. Scoring is not complete for applicants who previously submitted applications for craft grower and infuser licenses that did not receive a Notice of Award.”

Last week Illinois regulators told Grown In they were planning to release another 60 craft grow licenses and additional infuser licenses by December 21, 2021. Once those licenses are awarded, the application process will be complete, and scores will be released.

“There remains tremendous concern about the integrity of the process,” said Paul Magelli, executive director of the Illinois Craft Cannabis Association, which sued the state last fall to push for release of licenses after months of delay. “A substantial piece of that is because of the opaqueness of Dept. of Ag and the state. How much do you know about the process if it’s not being disclosed?”

Magelli and applicants who asked to remain anonymous for fear of drawing regulator ire, posit that the state is using a technicality to withhold scores because there is a risk the craft grow and infuser licenses would be subject to the same kinds of lawsuits dispensary licenses have been stuck in. 

But, by announcing that more licenses will be awarded in December 2021 – some of which may not be veteran-led – along with scores, the state has put applicants in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. 

“If people understood what they scored, and the veteran points weren’t the predominant issue after the initial forty awarded licenses, and there’s a ton that aren’t going to be veteran-owned teams, then I think it would give food for thought,” before filing suit, said one attorney representing cannabis applicants, who asked to remain anonymous since their clients are still determining next steps. 

“It’s causing us a headache. The big takeaway is: By us doing the limited licensing and putting on parameters, at the end of the day the [multi-state operators] still win, because of all the confusion,” said Anton Seals, a craft grow applicant who is hoping to win a license in the second round. “Most [multi-state operators] will just make a play to acquire craft grow licenses and have them as a social equity partner. They don’t see it as Black wealth building. They just see it as making money.”