Although more than five dozen cannabis-related bills have been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly since the start of its Spring session last month, legislators and lobbyists alike have little confidence that much of anything will pass before the end of an already curtailed session shortened even more by legislators anxious to get home for the June 28 primary elections.
“It’s hard enough to do something when you have a [regular] session. This month hasn’t had much activity, because of Covid stuff. A lot of meetings were cancelled, in-person session was cancelled even before that,” said Mark Peysakhovich, a lobbyist focusing on cannabis issues.
Because of how Illinois cannabis law is structured, most changes to how the market is regulated requires legislative approval – regulators are generally hog-tied from changing the big rules. And cannabis advocates and industry lobbyists have a long list of big changes they’d like to see, like an expansion of the craft grow licensed canopy from 5,000 to 14,000 square feet, allowing craft grow more licensees to co-locate, or creating a new application process for license applications.
But while there’s a general consensus, especially among Black and Latino legislators, that the current system needs fixes, the complexity of the issue and difficulty of passing changes in the last session has made legislators wary of diving in again this year.
“We’ve been caucusing on it,” said State Rep. LaShawn Ford, who publicly led the effort for legislative updates last year. “There’s no clear way to pass cannabis legislation. Especially with the way session is,” he said, referring to so much less personal contact, since most committee hearings are conducted remotely over Zoom, rather than in Springfield committee rooms.
Particular pressure is on for changes to craft grow licenses. Current Illinois law states that craft grower must start at 5,000 square feet of canopy and at some future time regulators could raise the limit to 14,000. But the legislation provides no guidance or criteria for how that limit could be raised.
Craft grow license holders, all of whom just got their licenses last August, complain that 5,000 square feet is too little space to recoup startup costs, and that more canopy is needed just to attract initial investment.
“Licensed craft growers are having trouble getting financing at the current 5,000 square foot canopy limit,” said cannabis lobbyist Jordan Matyas who is advocating for the Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association. “They need to raise $8 to $12 million to build out a facility. At 5,000 square feet, investors do not find this an attractive investment. If SB 3105 is not passed to allow craft grows to expand to 14,000 as allowed under current law, many licensees will not be able to stand up their company, and they’ll have to sell their license, likely to an MSO.”
Rep. Ford believes the canopy problem could be solved directly by state regulators.
“I’m trying to work with the Department [of Agriculture] to do it by administrative order. I learned they can do it,” Rep. Ford said.
Even so, there’s been pervasive rumors of some sort of overall regulatory “clean up” bill.
“I’m not sure if there is a clean up bill,” said State Sen. Cristina Castro, chair of the Senate committee that oversees cannabis regulation. “I know we had our bill filing deadline and the House had theirs [last] week. Not sure what’s all out there.”
Even so, Rep. Ford says legislators and regulators alike are reluctant to act because of the ongoing lawsuits freezing the award of 245 dispensary and craft grow licenses.
“Everything is tied up because of the licenses, that’s what the administration would say,” said Rep. Ford.