Illinois’ new dispensary license winners are dreaming of making a cordoned off line just like this one. Inside Jushi’s Beyond/Hello dispensary in Normal, Ill. Credit: Provided / Jushi

After 185 Illinois applicants dispensary applicants were finally handed a lifeline, license winners are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Minority operators may be the ones benefiting the most. Applications were submitted 30 months ago, in the first week of January 2020 and were originally supposed to be awarded in April that year.

Although a federal case still needs to be resolved, aspiring Illinois adult use dispensary licenses are closer than ever to getting their licenses, after a judge lifted two stays barring the state from awarding those licenses to license lottery winners. The stay was lifted after attorney Mazie Harris for the WAH Group filed a motion to lift the stays.

[Dispensary license winners: Sept 3. 2020 / July 29, 2021 / Aug. 5, 2021 / Aug. 19, 2021]

But, the case is still in federal court pending a decision in the Northern Illinois District, where Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer is reviewing a request for a temporary injunction that may deem the entire process is unconstitutional, based on a plaintiff’s complaint over residency requirements.

For now, licensees that have been waiting over two years are planning out how to move forward with their business aspirations. Eric Ice-Gibson, owner of craft cannabis grower 1937 Group who applied for a license in 2020, said that it is a great chance for a fair shake at the industry, especially for people of color.

Ice-Gibson plans to open the “Parkway Dispensary” in Danville, Ill., and operate in tandem with 1937 Group, making it one of the first vertically integrated cannabis operations that are largely minority-owned.

“It feels wonderful to have such a golden opportunity, and we know it brings a lot of pressure too,” Ice-Gibson said. “We as a minority owned business have to prove we can succeed. And we have to help other people succeed too. 

Ice-Gibson said that he uses his influence in the Illinois cannabis space as a person of color to help others and keep others away from the pitfalls he suffered in trying to own his own business. For now, he says the hard part is going to be in working with real estate and local government after the two-year wait.

Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois (CBAI), says dispensaries have been badly needed in disproportionately affected areas and to be served by people of color.

“It’s a welcome step to making sure the industry is equitable and accessible to everyone, especially those affected by policies of the past,” Althoff said. 

Althoff believes that mentorship and financial assistance from the state and other operators is needed to help social equity applicants opening dispensaries and craft growers to ensure they remain viable.

The 185 licenses that were held up were largely awarded to diverse owners to provide social equity to those impacted by the War on Drugs. According to state records, almost all of Illinois’ 110 dispensary licenses are owned by multi-state operators, with less than 2% of them being minority owned businesses.

“The lifting of the stay on issuing the 185 dispensary licenses is a very big development,” Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association president Scott Redman said. “This is not only great news for those license winners who have been waiting since September 2020, but also for the craft growers, infusers, and transporters that will certainly rely on these dispensaries.”

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.