Illinois issues 149 new recreational marijuana dispensary licenses in a move to promote diversity in the industry

Illinois issued 149 new recreational marijuana dispensary licenses on Friday, marking a long-awaited breakthrough in the state’s efforts to expand and diversify the industry.

But because of the time it takes to start such a business, many of the stores may not open until next year.

Most of the new cannabis retail stores are planned for the Chicago metropolitan area and more than double the current 110 medical and recreational stores. Among new licensees, 41% are majority Black owned, 7% majority White owned, and 4% majority Latino owned, while 38% did not disclose the race of their owners.

Until now, ownership of marijuana businesses in the state has been almost exclusively male and white.

Ambrose Jackson, CEO of Parkway Dispensary in Danville, said he was relieved to finally receive notice of the license.

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“It’s unbelievable,” he said, “it hasn’t been established yet, because we’ve been in this holding pattern for two years. It’s a big deal.”

His team, The 1937 Group, will soon decide whether to operate in an existing building, which could take three months to convert, or to build from scratch, which could take at least six months.

The new licenses are “conditional,” meaning that licensees must meet various requirements before receiving their final licenses to open their businesses.

Businesses have 180 days to select a location and begin operations, and can request another 180-day extension if needed. An additional 36 dispensary licenses are scheduled to be issued statewide in August.

Many of the licenses had been delayed more than two years due to coronavirus disruptions, issues with the application scoring process, and court orders delaying licensing while lawsuits challenge the process.

The delays cost many business owners tens of thousands of dollars in lost rent or land acquisition costs. The startups struggled to secure financing while licenses were in limbo, with some likely to sell to larger corporate chains as part of the ongoing consolidation of the growing industry, which is approaching $2 billion in annual sales in Illinois.

Social equity licensees, generally defined as those from poor neighborhoods or areas with a high rate of cannabis arrests, may qualify for low-interest loans through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The first round of companies is expected to finalize loan agreements with the state’s partner lending institutions in the coming weeks.

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