Cannabis lottery in Illinois in shambles as Black and Latino caucuses feel “blindsided” by the process
Parity, social justice, and fair trade in the cannabis industry hit another setback this week with growing concern the lottery process for dispensary licenses in Illinois was a haphazard mess. According to a report from News 25 in Illinois, lawmakers from the Black and Latino caucuses feel “blindsided” by the process. It appears that out of 700 applications, there only remain 21 finalists for 75 licenses.
"Out of 4,500 applications, what in our scoring process made us only dwindle down 75 applications for only 21 applicants? That is just beyond me," said Chicago Rep. Sonya Harper, according to News 25.
Harper, who chairs the House Economic Opportunity and Equity Committee, argued that unlike big businesses, social equity applicants couldn’t take the time to submit dozens of applications in every region of the state — essentially gaming the system. Some in the governor’s office agree with her assessment.
After all, applications cost $2500 a pop. For those in low-income communities looking to start a business, one application is a heavy burden, let alone many. The entire process has diminished the cannabis activist community’s push for social justice in the industry. Now, the Legislative Black Caucus is asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to suspend the lottery process until something can be done.
"We need to put a limit on how many you can apply for at one time so that you can't have really heavy money interests apply for way more than your regular folks can apply for," Toi Hutchinson told News 25.
Causing further problems was the fact that accounting firm KPMG was granted a no-bid contract to review the applications. An employee from the firm was named on three of the license applications.
"KPMG was given millions of dollars to do this application process, and we don't feel it was done right. Plus, they're giving themselves dispensary licenses," Harper told News 25. "I think a magnifying glass is definitely needed on this situation."
Gov. Pritzker downplayed the issue, however, noting that all of the 21 finalists were social equity applicants.
"Two-thirds of the applicants were 51 percent owned by those who come from disproportionately impacted areas," Pritzker said, according to News 25. "62 percent of the owners are controlled by people of color."
Additionally, 20 percent of the applicants had cannabis arrests that were expunged, and another 10 percent were children of those who were arrested for marijuana infractions in the past.
According to News 25, ensuring equity in the cannabis industry is “a marathon, not a sprint.”
"Eighty years of failed drug policy is going to be really difficult to do in one bill. But how far we've come in nine months - we've expunged 10,000 criminal records," Hutchinson said, according to News 25. "The sales of this have been through the roof in the middle of a global pandemic which is targeted to those very same communities that are disproportionately impacted. Then, we finally get to this lottery round - this place in time - where we'll see if we diversify the actual industry itself."