Illinois attempts to cure its legal problems with more license lotteries

Illinois State Senate

Toi Hutchinson, Illinois’ Senior Advisor to the Governor on Cannabis Control.

Piling on to a complicated legal drama, Illinois’ lead cannabis policy maker, Toi Hutchinson, called a snap press conference Friday morning to announce the state will ask court permission to create a series of supplemental license lotteries, just days after a plaintiff announced in court they would file a complaint because of problems with the state’s July 29 license lottery. Hutchinson also announced that Illinois was releasing its final list of license lottery winners and that in 2022 Illinois would issue 50 more adult-use dispensary licenses through a new application process.

Hutchinson admitted in Friday’s phone-based presser that state regulators committed “clerical errors”, resulting in certain applicants getting extra lottery chances and six applicants receiving fewer lottery chances, across five BLS regions, than they were due in the July 29 Qualified Applicant Lottery. None of the applicants with extra chances received licenses, Hutchinson said.

To fix this problem, Hutchinson and Juliet Berger-White, Deputy General Counsel for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said that the state would petition a court to-be-named to allow the state to conduct supplemental lotteries for the six teams left out on July 29. The state would also request permission to conduct additional supplemental lotteries if more discrepancies are discovered.

The lotteries would be conducted by computer simulation, “Like the Pick 4”, said Hutchinson. Hutchinson said previous license lotteries were conducted this way. Any new licenses assigned from the supplemental lotteries would be in addition to other, already assigned licenses.

The missed application chances recently became a central component of the Wah v. IDFPR case, a suit pending in Cook County Circuit Court that has held up 185 new adult-use dispensary licenses. The state’s problems became especially acute when Judge Moshe Jacobius issued an emergency order July 28, barring the state from transferring new cannabis licenses to lottery winners while allowing the lotteries to go forward. Last Wednesday, plaintiff’s attorney Mazie Harris, who is also a part-owner of her client WAH Group LLC, announced that her client was planning to submit a new complaint for the case because WAH Group had not received as many lottery entries in the July 29 lottery as they were due. 

While WAH Group LLC is suing the state in conjunction with Haaayy LLC, Harris has been acting as first chair among the two plaintiff’s attorneys, tying Illinois cannabis regulators into knots, with fiery, tightly argued legal briefs that have repeatedly received kudos from presiding Judge Jacobius. WAH and Haaayy – through Harris’ briefs – have been arguing that the state’s license application scoring process was unconstitutional, providing an unjust, special advantage to veteran-led teams, since it assigns extra points to veterans.

[Follow archive the WAH v. IDFPR coverage]

The stakes of WAH v. IDFPR are tremendously high for Illinois regulators. In an August hearing, Judge Jacobius said he is about ready to make a ruling on the veterans points issue, maybe as soon as the case’s next hearing on September 23. Throughout the hearings, Judge Jacobius has repeatedly made statements suggesting he favored Harris’ arguments against the constitutionality of veterans points. In one hearing, Judge Jacobius said the entire application process could be flawed.

Following the August 19 lottery, Harris announced that WAH would withdraw from the case because her team and client had won two dispensary licenses and thus no longer had standing on the veteran points issue. But then, last Wednesday, after the other plaintiff’s attorney, Robert Walker, refused to answer Grown In’s questions about whether or not his client would continue with the case, Harris surprised the court by not withdrawing from the case. She then announced plans that her client would stay in the case to make their new complaint, while Haaayy would continue to argue on the veteran’s points issue. 

Walker, as with most of his court appearances in the case since it was first filed in September 2020, had little to say for his client, allowing Harris to take the lead.

Less than 48 hours later, Illinois regulators announced a new plan that would likely peel WAH Group LLC and their attorney/co-owner, Mazie Harris, off the case, by satisfying WAH’s newest demand. If WAH were to drop out of the case, and Harris was no longer leading the plaintiff efforts, it is unclear whether Haaayy LLC would continue. That outcome would solve almost all of Illinois regulator’s problems, and allow the state to issue the 185 dispensary license unfettered.

Contacted by Grown In, Mazie Harris said she had no comment.