Illinois cannabis regulators assigned 55 new adult-use dispensary licenses this afternoon and while the licenses seemed at first blush to go to a wide array of applicants – including many with social equity backgrounds – some licenses went to familiar names in the cannabis business.
Adding a stutter step to the process, a Cook County Circuit Court judge yesterday issued an emergency order that allowed Illinois to go forward with today’s lottery, but restricted the state from awarding licenses to the selected designees. On August 9, that judge will convene court to hear arguments on Wah v. IDFPR, where a group of dispensary applicants charge that the veteran’s bonus points tallied in the dispensary application scoring process creates a special class of applicants, which is illegal under the Illinois constitution.
Because of the emergency order, the status of licenses distributed in today’s lotteries remains unclear, although lottery winners Grown In spoke to are assuming they’ll end up as official licensees.
Two of Illinois’s most prominent social equity advocates, former State Sen. Rickey Hendon, and Edie Moore, executive director of Chicago NORML, each were assigned licenses in the Chicago area. A number of existing cannabis companies were also assigned licenses, including New York-based multi-state operator AYR Wellness, Tacoma, Washington dispensary World of Weed, Michigan cultivator Fello Cannabis, Addison, Illinois dispensary EarthMed, and Green Releaf, doing business as GRD Illinois LLC, which is connected to Jay Patel, the founder of a chain of Missouri dispensaries by that name. Another license designee for the St. Louis area, Fortunate Son Partners LLC, appears to be connected to Jeff Rehberger, president of Lucky Lincoln Gaming, an Illinois terminal operator company.
Two applicant teams that are part of the Wah v. IDFPR case were designated licensees. Haaayy LLC, led by Chicago West Sider Robert Walker, was a designated winner, as well as 24th Regiment – Latino Veteran’s Unit LLC, a Chicago-based team that sued the state separately, but had their case joined with the Wah v. IDFPR case.
Last September, Eva Idalia Hernandez, a former U.S. Army sergeant who is part of Latino Veteran’s Unit LLC, spoke at a press conference to criticize Illinois regulators because her team had been disqualified with no explanation.
“The department says they can’t tell us [why]. I want to know if the process was fair,” she said at the time. The attorney for Latino Veteran’s Unit LLC did not respond to a Grown In follow-up request for comment.
But today, it appears that the state’s fourth round of discrepancy notices allowed Latino Veteran’s Unit LLC to fix the problems with their application and ultimately win a license.
Some applicants won two licenses in this lottery round, the maximum allowed. The double winners included Rockford-based Social Equity Investments LLC, Clean Slate Holdings, led by Green Thumb Industries co-founder Matt Estep which was a lottery designee last September as one of the 21 perfect scoring companies. Also, a pair of licenses were awarded to the same North Clark Street address in Chicago, to Green & Bransford LLC and Green & Randle LLC.
“I’m an emotional wreck. We got a chance,” said Hendon when contacted by Grown In Thursday evening, who plans to locate his dispensary at a former CBD store on Chicago’s West Side that closed due to Covid. “If I make [an opening] this year, I’m fine. I know some things take time. I believe the city is committed to expediting these licenses now. September might be aggressive. October, we might be open.”
The license designee for the Danville area, Parkway Dispensary LLC, is led by Eric Ice-Gibson, a part of a team that also won Illinois craft grow and secure transport licenses two weeks ago. Ice-Gibson, who is a Black military veteran and hails from Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, participated in incubators run by Cresco Labs and Green Thumb Industries, but they didn’t take investment, it was, “All bootstrap fundraising!” he said.
“I told the guys that technically we can consider ourselves a vertically integrated company,” said Ice-Gibson. “Now it’s about funding, building. Which of those counties are pro or anti [cannabis]? Now it’s a mad hunt for property. The area is close to Indiana, it could be lucrative.”
Jason Erkes, spokesperson for Cresco Labs, proudly trumpeted Parkway Dispensary’s success, and noted that another team they supported won a craft grow license earlier this month.
“We’re obviously thrilled, because we thought we were out last September. We’ll continue to work with them and on getting others involved in our incubator to be successful,” Erkes said.