A cannabis grow with an automatic watering and nutrient system. Credit: Crystalweed Cannabis / Unsplash

After a year-long wait, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) awarded 48 adult-use cannabis licenses yesterday for craft growers. According to IDOA, the majority of licenses will go to people of color and every winning team is veteran-led. 

All of the licenses were issued to qualified social equity applicants, defined as Illinois residents who have been living in areas disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs as well as those arrested for or convicted of cannabis-related offenses. 42% of the licenses are majority Black-owned, 36% are majority White-owned, 8% (4) are majority Hispanic-owned, and 8% are owned by a partnership group. 

[Read the list of craft grow license winners.]

The IDOA received more than 450 craft grow applications, more than 110 for infusers, and more than 250 for transporters. License applications were first submitted in Spring 2020. The license awards were delayed by the state’s Covid response and numerous lawsuits. 

Last March, a judge released a legal stay on craft grow licenses, resulting in yesterday’s license award. Two weeks ago IDOA proudly trumpeted three craft grow licensees – from a previous batch of awards – as they began construction of their cultivation facilities. As of today the state has issued 88 craft grow licenses, 54 infuser licenses, and 189 transporter licenses.

The 88 craft grow licenses are each limited to 5,000 square feet of canopy for adult use cannabis. In the aggregate, they total 440,000 square feet. They will compete against 21 Early Approval Adult Use Cultivation Centers, most of which have been operating since 2019 or before. Each Cultivation Center may grow up to 210,000 square feet of adult use cannabis. They may each grow an unlimited amount of medical cannabis.

Several state legislators championed and praised the licensing, saying that the new licenses will help create a more equitable industry. 

“Diversity in the cannabis industry has been a top priority since the law’s inception. It’s important we give people disproportionately impacted by the harmful War on Drugs strong footing in the industry,” said State Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin), Co-Chair of the Joint Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus, and chair of the State Senate committee that oversees the state’s cannabis program. “That’s why I’m pleased to see 100% of these recent craft grow licenses go to social equity applicants—we’re showing that Illinois takes equity and diversity seriously.”

Though originally planned for 60 applicants, the IDOA made the decision to issue 48 licenses based on a number of factors, including the number of existing licensees and the breakdown of scores that applicants received. The 12 licenses that the Department is not issuing today will go back into the total pool of available licenses.

Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, says while the state should have helped social equity applicants first when the state legalized in 2020, it’s still a necessary and helpful step needed to diversify Illinois’ cannabis industry.

“Now more than ever is the time to coalesce to make sure this is a thriving industry,” Althoff said. “I know people individually that were financially struggling to support this. The state needs to do everything it can to ensure that these applications are successful.”

Althoff says the state should give these applicants guidance and direction such as mentorship and grants.

However, a spokesperson for the IDOA says that all of the applicants are veterans, raising concerns from Scott Redman, president of the Illinois Craft Grower Association, about how it may be seen as unintentionally unfair to other applicants.

“I don’t think anyone envisioned back in 2019 and early 2020 that things would shake out in such a way that you needed a veteran to get a license,” Redman said. “As I understand the history of the CRTA, that was not the intention.”

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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.