Illinois to award cannabis licenses 'in coming weeks'

Forest Park ready for potential businesses with zoning and tax in place

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By Maria Maxham

Illinois' first round of cannabis dispensary licenses will be "issued in coming weeks," according to an Aug. 12 press release from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). The release also announced that the state's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) approved rules for a tiebreaking process in granting the 75 new licenses.

The licenses were scheduled to be awarded by the IDFPR on May 1, but the process was put on hold by Gov. J. B. Pritzker on April 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency tiebreaking rules had been issued in December but expired after six months; therefore, a permanent set of rules was needed before licenses could be awarded.

The tiebreaking rules determine that a random drawing will be done among applicants in the same Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) region with tied scores. Applicants with tied scores will be awarded conditional licenses in the order they are drawn; the conditional license gives them 180 days to finalize a location for a dispensary. Once the location is secured, the awardee will be issued the adult-use license to sell marijuana.

Tiebreaking rules are necessary because licenses will be awarded based on a point system; a process must be in place to decide to whom a license should be awarded if applications receive the same number of points.

The IDFPR will rank applicants using the following scale, with a total of 250 points possible:

  • Suitability of employee training plan (15 points)
  • Security and record keeping (65 points)
  • Business plan, financials, operating plan, and floor plan (65 points)
  • Knowledge and experience in cannabis or related fields (30 points)
  • Status as a social equity applicant (50 points)
  • Labor and employment practices (5 points)
  • Environmental plan (5 points)
  • Illinois owner (5 points)
  • Status as a veteran (5 points)
  • Diversity plan (5 points)

Social equity applicants are those that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • The applicant has at least 51 percent ownership and control by one or more individuals who have resided for at least five of the preceding 10 years in a disproportionately impacted area.
  • The applicant has at least 51 percent ownership and control by one or more individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of any offense that is eligible for expungement under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act or is a member of an impacted family.
  • The applicant has at least 10 full-time employees and at least 51 percent of whom currently reside in a disproportionately impacted area or have been arrested for or convicted of any offense that is eligible for expungement under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act or is a member of an impacted family.

Hopeful license awardees whose social equity status was achieved through the third condition above were offered reprieve during the state's licensing delay. Originally, they were required to have full-time employees at the time applications were submitted (due by Jan. 2, 2020) and were to be maintained as employees throughout the application scoring period. However, with a downtown in the economy, the IDFPR isn't currently requiring that the social equity employees be retained throughout the lengthier licensing process. Applicants who receive licenses will be required to employ the required number of employees within 60 days, however.

Of the 75 licenses to be issued in Illinois, 47 will be given to businesses planning to open in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin BLS region, which includes Cook County.

The IDFPR press release also stated that scoring for craft grower, infuser and transporter licenses is being finalized.

In January 2020, Forest Park's village council voted to amend the local zoning code to add cultivation, manufacture, distribution and transportation of cannabis as uses in several districts.

"[Recreational marijuana] is one of those rare new revenue streams that, frankly, the village doesn't get often," said Steve Glinke, director of health and safety, during his presentation on zoning amendments during the meeting.

In Sept. 2019, the village council voted to impose a 3 percent tax on local sales of marijuana in anticipation of adult sales and use of cannabis becoming legal on Jan. 1, 2020. With marijuana sales setting records in Illinois for the last three months – July saw over $60 million in sales – revenue for a town with a dispensary could be significant.

Mayor Rory Hoskins established a solid relationship with Michael Cardozo, CEO of Karuna Ventures, who early-on expressed interest in opening a recreational marijuana cultivation center and dispensary in Forest Park. Hoskins invited Cardozo to participate in two town-hall meetings on the topic in 2019.

Cardozo will know within a few weeks if Karuna has been granted a license by the state.

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