Social equity activist Edie Moore speaks as Chicago NORML executive director Kiana Hughes (right) listens in downtown Chicago on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Credit: Submitted / Chicago NORML

Applications for 55 more dispensary licenses will be opened to Illinois social equity applicants in “late summer or early fall of 2022”, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the state’s regulators. The announcement comes as advocates held yet another press conference Wednesday to complain there are no minority-owned cannabis dispensaries in the state, and that “they have not been able to go into business due to destructive lawsuits and legislative delays.”

The new licenses and application process come as the consolidated lawsuit that has locked up 185 dispensary licenses continues to grind forward. Proceeds from a hearing held last month seemed to suggest that those licenses could be freed up for award last this spring.

An unusually detailed press release from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees dispensaries, explained the steps and restrictions to come in the new application process, in particular that applicant companies must be 51% owned by people who were residents of areas impacted by the War on Drugs, had been arrested for marijuana-reated offenses, or be a direct family member of such a person. 

[Read the IDFPR press release with application details.]

The new system also brings two significant changes: First, applications will be online and only cost $250 each. Previous applications were on paper and cost thousands of dollars each. Second, only one application will be allowed per applicant, whereas previous processes allowed as many applications as one could afford.

The announcement also left open a door to more changes to social equity requirements, as it stated applicants may be required to meet, “alternate criteria which will be described in the upcoming release of the new adult use lottery rules.”

Advocates expressed support for the new process – with qualifications. For instance, the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois (CBAI), which represents owners of the 110 currently operating dispensaries, expressed support for new licenses, but that they may be overly concentrated in the Chicago area.

“The process unnecessarily restricts the number of applications to specific geographic areas that may already be saturated with cannabis dispensary licenses,” read a statement from CBAI. “We would encourage the reconsideration of expanding the arbitrary regions into larger geographical areas.”

“The new process will hopefully allow the state and assist agencies to use a more targeted approach for applicants,” said Chicago NORML spokesperson Edie Moore in a written statement. “Allowing only one opportunity per applicant and lowering the cost is more in keeping with the original intent of the [enacting law].”

Moore is also personally frustrated, since she won dispensary licenses in one of earlier application rounds, and they are now locked up in the court case.

“We’re learning the lessons from the first round and doing our best to improve as we go. We still have a lot of work to make it our cannabis program,” she said.

Timing on Illinois’ new application process depends on how soon proposed regulations governing the process move through the rules approval process. Typically rules in Illinois are required to be listed in the State Register for 45 days, then undergo a review by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a body of state legislators who review and approve rules. Then, if JCAR approves the rules with no changes, they must be listed in the State Register for an additional 45 days. So, at the fastest, the new regulations could be enacted in three months.


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...