Chicago dispensaries, like 4Front’s Mission Dispensary in the South Chicago neighborhood (pictured here), were not the leading driver of Illinois sales in 2022, that crown went to suburban Cook County dispensaries.

Illinois is still struggling to create a diverse cannabis industry, according to a recently released state report. And while non-white ownership of dispenary licenses vastly improved with the latest round of awards this summer, newly released hard numbers aren’t as rosy as expected.

Quietly released last week, the Illinois Department of Financial Professional Regulation’s “Annual Cannabis Report” has a rocky past. The first report, for 2020, was “published” but not posted on the agency’s website for months until this publication surreptitiously received a copy and reported the findings, which included news that in 2020 98% of cannabis license owners were white.

[Download the Illinois 2022 Annual Cannabis Report]

This year’s report shows improvement – now 88% of majority owners are white – but still not the kind of numbers a politician would want to trumpet in a state that’s 46% non-white. 

While the report is required by state law, the department’s regulators seem to be trying to gain more information on how the market is structured. This year they added a number of measures previously unreleased, like the diversity of various levels of cannabis employees (see table), the number of license transfers, and revenue collected by region. 

There’s also, finally, some hard numbers on the actual diversity of the 185 new adult use dispensary licenses awarded in 2022. While every license qualified as “social equity”, Illinois’ rules on who can qualify for social equity were somewhat permeable, since applicants who employed ten people from disproportionately impacted areas could qualify as social equity.

We now know that only 31% of the total dispensary licenses awarded, 59 of 185, are owned by people of color. Previous state leaders had regularly evaded releasing this statistic and this is the first time the public got it in unvarnished form. While 31% is better than most other states, it seems like a number that will be quickly eclipsed by New York and New Jersey as they get their adult use program up to speed.

Finally, the state released some interesting charts – minus underlying data – that show where the true action for cannabis sales lies, in the Cook County suburbs, which is a good 20% higher within the Chicago city limits or all of “Southern Counties”, which seems to be everything south of Springfield, Ill.

From Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The state also released a rudimentary chart – also minus underlying data – that shows flower sales to be over 50% of sales, vapes about 30%, and edibles to be less than 15%. 

From Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The outstanding question is, of the 185 new adult use dispensary licenses (and others awarded through corrective lotteries), how many will stay in the original winners’ hands, and of those, how many will be diverse owners? The 2023 report should be riveting stuff and the first public evidence of whether or not Illinois’ cannabis diversity program has succeeded.


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...