A 379-page bill to consolidate Illinois’ cannabis oversight from multiple agencies into one agency, the Cannabis Equity and Oversight Commission, was introduced by a member of Democratic House leadership last week, after weeks of lobbying and briefings of legislators and stakeholders by the state’s chief regulator.
Introduced by State Rep. and House Assistant Majority Leader Marcus Evans, a Black Caucus member that has worked on behalf of cannabis industry interests in the past, the bill would create a commission similar in structure to New York and New Jersey’s commissions and gather staff and oversight functions current overseen by the Illinois Departments of Agriculture, Financial and Professional Regulation, Public Health, and the State Police.
“It’s something that’s been discussed and a priority of the current [Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer], I think she’s been working on it for a while,” said cannabis lobbyist and advocate Mark Peysakhovich, referring to Illinois’ top regulator, Danielle Perry.
Indeed, a digital presentation acquired by Grown In, has been circulated by Perry since early February, said multiple stakeholders. Perry has been working to build internal administration support for the consolidation since “Cannabis Czar” Toi Hutchinson left Gov. J.B. Prizker’s office to lead the Marijuana Policy Project last December, say legislators briefed on the matter.
Asked for comment on the legislation, the Illinois Governor’s office did not return requests for comment by publication.
The legislation creating the Cannabis Equity and Oversight Commission would provide significant new regulatory powers, including “to establish market protections that protect against unfair business practices”, “amend or expand the definition of a Social Equity Applicant”, and “develop a noncompetitive application and selection process for licensing cannabis business establishments that may be similar to licensing under the Illinois Liquor Control Act.”
Some of these powers are changes small operator advocates have sought for years, but have been slapped down through lobbying by Illinois’ multiple billion-dollar multi-state operators. The language to develop a non-competitive process indicates that Illinois, while still limiting the total number of licenses, could move to a license award process similar to New Jersey or Ohio’s where each applicant is evaluated by their individual merits, leaving open the possibility for more small and diverse operators.
“We’re supportive of the bill. We think most of the problems are that [things are] all over the place and all the agencies do things differently, like badging and applications. All the things. All the things that have gone wrong could have been reduced by having everything in one department,” said Chicago NORML’s Edie Moore.
Advocates close to Perry, like Moore, expressed support for the legislation, but trade associations, like the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois and the Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association refused to comment, saying they had not yet read the legislation to form an opinion.
The deadline to pass legislation out of committee this session has passed in the Illinois state legislature, and with session ending April 30 this year, the fact that the cannabis consolidation bill was introduced by a member of House Democratic leadership is significant, since only with the assent of the the Speaker or Senate President can language be inserted into a bill already moving on a chamber’s floor.
So-called “shell bills”, Illinois legislative leaders typically pass a number of empty or meaningless bills out of committee precisely so they can be gutted and replaced with language – on practically any matter – they want to immediately address. Observers believe that because HB5710, the consolidation bill, was proposed by Assistant Majority Leader Evans and that it contains hundreds of pages of legal details, it is an indication of leadership and administration support.
“I don’t know why it would be rolled out if it had no chance,” said Peysakhovich. “Given that it’s an initiative of the administration, it can certainly fly through if the administration actively pushed for it.”