A cannabis cultivation greenhouse. Credit: Richard T / Unsplash

Following a growing furor on social media last week, Illinois’ biggest cannabis trade association moved to clarify its stance on allowing social equity craft grow license holders the right to increase canopy space.

“The Cannabis Business Association of Illinois (CBAI) supports licensing 14,000 square feet of cultivation space for those craft growers who are Black and Latinx business owners. The association does not support the new legislation, as drafted, because it allows no discretion and affords no protections to ensure that the benefit of this proposal actually goes to the Black and Latinx businesses for whom this category of licenses was intended. CBAI will only support legislation that bolsters the groups these licenses were intended to benefit,” said a written statement submitted by the organization.

Last week Grown In reported that CBAI’s board of directors had voted to oppose SB3105, legislation that would allow craft growers to expand their allowed canopy from 5,000 to 14,000 square feet. Thus far, each of the 40 craft grow licenses has been awarded to social equity applicants. 

Illinois law stipulates that craft grow licenses should start at 5,000 square feet and then at some time undesignated by law, could be increased to 14,000 square feet. License winners argue that a 5,000 square feet canopy grow operation cannot be profitable, making it difficult to attract investors.

But SB3105 has been stuck in committee and the likelihood of the measure’s passage seems low this year anyway. The Illinois legislature has a shorter than usual spring session this year, ending April 30, as legislators will head home for the June 28 primary election. To move forward, the measure would need to be folded into other, already moving legislation by party leaders who control the legislative calendar. Without CBAI support, that seems unlikely.

Still, leaders of a smaller trade association representing craft growers, said they’ll take whatever support they can get to move forward.

“IICGA is pleased to hear that CBAI supports 14,000 square feet for social equity in this legislative session and we look forward to working with them cooperatively in accomplishing this in the current legislative session,” said Bobby Burns, a craft grow license owner and board member of the Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association.

Meanwhile, spokespeople from three large cannabis companies operating in Illinois, Curaleaf, PharmaCann, and Cresco Labs, released statements that they support craft grow owners of color, but oppose the current legislation because it does not guarantee diverse owners will reap the rewards, since current license owners could immediately sell their licenses to other, large cannabis companies.

“This bill, however, does nothing to ensure the success of the operators the social equity provisions of the [Cannabis Revenue and Tax Act]  were intended to empower. Instead, it’s a grab by a few noisy license holders who have no intention of becoming operational, but desire only to shop their paper license to out-of-staters eager to pay a premium to enter the Illinois market,” wrote Jeremy Unruh, Senior Vice President, Public And Regulatory Affairs for PharmaCann.

“SB3105 as written does not have sufficient safeguards to ensure generational ownership opportunities for people from these very communities,” said Chima Enyia, Executive Vice President of Cresco Labs’ Social Equity and Educational Development initiative.


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...