Artistic simulation of current Illinois dispensary license situation. Credit: Eastman Childs / Unsplash

Illinois’ license winners are resigning themselves to a long, slow slog, after last week’s Supreme Court ruling consolidating four lawsuits that could keep the state from awarding 185 new dispensary licenses for at least six months.

“As a lawyer I think it’s going to be longer,” said Scott Redman, an attorney, craft grow license winner, and president of the Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association. Redman says many craft growers’ business plans count on being able to sell to the new dispensaries held up in court.

“It is going to be the primary outlet for craft grow products. Any delay is going to affect everybody’s timeline,” said Redman. “It depends on how fast the dispensaries will stand up and how quickly [state regulators] will be able to do the things to approve a dispensary opening business.”

Paul Magelli, leader of the Illinois Craft Cannabis Association agreed the lack of new dispensaries is a major problem for craft growers.

“They were already facing hurdles, if you have no distribution, you have no business. It’s going to make it considerably harder for people completing a business plan and [trying to] get it financed. For transporters, if there’s no substantial number of places to distribute to, you have no business. It just adds more uncertainty to Illinois.”

After the exuberance of winning a license, dispensary license holders are now regarding the process soberly and trying to see the positive.

“The court process is the court process,” said Hannah Jubeh, who is part of a team that won a license in the Chicago area. “The more time you have to put together a plan, the better the outcome is going to be.”

“I don’t know what to say. I’m just trying to keep moving,” said Edie Moore. “This is a mess. [State regulators] just need to keep moving forward. This stopping and starting is hurting the program and not helping anyone except MSOs and the people already operating.”

“For us, it is obviously a setback. It’s very difficult to try to have conversations with municipalities when not even having a general idea of when we could move forward with anything. All the while the MSOs and those with licenses..Illinois is really trying for the little guy like us,” said Eric Ice-Gipson, who won a license in the Danville area.

Last month Illinois’ 110 dispensaries, almost all of which are owned by corporate multi-state operators, racked up over $151 million in sales. Illinois dispensaries are on track to sell over $1.6 billion this year, an average of $14.6 million per dispensary. Illinois legal cannabis sales could grow as much as 60% over 2020’s sales. 

Illinois’ 185 dispensary licenses have been held up by court cases since lawsuits were first filed in September 2020. In July, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Moishe Jacobius barred state regulators from awarding dispensary licenses while allowing lotteries to go forward. Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court merged the case before Judge Jacobius with three others into one “supercase”. All of the cases involve license applicants with complaints about the application process, demanding another lottery opportunity. Now that the cases have been consolidated, a new court process must begin, potentially taking months more to resolve.

License holders Grown In spoke to morally support the groups suing the state for licenses, but believe the state should be moving to separate the lottery winners from the ongoing lawsuits.

“Those that didn’t get their balls in the hat [for the lottery], they deserve it. Some kind of lottery should be done for them,” said Rickey Hendon, a social equity advocate and dispensary license winner. “I was hoping that [Judge Moishe] Jacobius would let the first round go forward. Everyone and their momma was in it. We thought that one would go forward, that one isn’t really under contest.”


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...