A canopy most Illinois craft growers can only dream about.

Illinois’ oldest and largest cannabis trade association is opposing efforts for social equity-owned craft grow licensees to increase their canopy size, setting up an open battle between the state’s billion-dollar multi-state operator cannabis companies and a few dozen craft grow licensees largely-owned by people of color.

The conflict was spurred on by legislation that would increase craft grow allowed canopy from 5,000 square feet to to 14,000, a move many craft grower licensees say is essential, since the marginal cost of operation for the smaller size is too high to attract investment. Craft grow licenses were issued last August, and many operators are still in the process of setting up their facilities and raising equity investment. Doubling their concerns is that state law says craft grow licenses must be operational by July, or the state can revoke their license. 

Last week, the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois (CBAI), a trade association that largely represents operational Illinois cannabis companies, a group dominated by billion-dollar companies based in Chicago, such PharmaCann, Cresco Labs, and Verano Holdings, confirmed plans in a board meeting to oppose SB3105, legislation that would expand craft grow facility allowable canopy to 14,000 square feet.

Asked for a comment, the association did not deny their plans to oppose the bill.

“CBAI maintains that in this truncated legislative session, the state should pause to properly assess where our industry stands rather than attempt to make incremental changes to an evolving industry. Our association will continue to support inclusion and diversity within the market, and we stand ready to work with all stakeholders to create the most robust and equitable recreational cannabis industry in the nation,” read a written statement from the association.

“When we talk to investors, people look at the 5,000 square feet, and it is impossible to make those numbers work at 5,000. At 14,000, things look a lot better. That anyone in a trade group is against this, is truly disconcerting,” said Eric Ice-Gibson, owner of the craft grow licensee the 1937 Group.

Ice-Gipson also feels double-crossed by the trade group, since he has been participating in their Minority Access Committee. 

“We are on the MAC committee for CBAI. We were not included. Not a single one of the topics was on that agenda,” he said. “It feels like everything in Illinois is working to cause everyone to fail due to lack of funds.”

A smaller trade association of craft growers, the Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association (IICGA), expressed its anger with CBAI’s opposition to the bill.

“These mega cannabis companies are opposing a change in law that would allow social equity craft growers an opportunity to compete. This is about competition and for years Big Cannabis has had no competition and they are fighting hard to ensure that stays the same,” wrote Bobby Burns, a craft grow licensee and board member of the IICGA.

Time is running out for the current Illinois legislative session, along with the chances of a craft grow canopy expansion. Last week were the deadlines for legislation to pass out of committee – and SB3105 did not move. 

“Anything moving from this point on, now that deadlines have passed, will likely need the support of leadership to be moved after the deadlines, and before April 31,” the end of session, said cannabis lobbyist John Daley. One possibility is that House or Senate leadership could insert the craft grow canopy expansion in another bill that’s already likely to pass, but with conflict within the state’s cannabis industry, it’s a move leadership is less likely to make.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Green Thumb Industries was a member of CBAI. It left the association in May 2021.


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...