“Social equity” status was a trademark of Illinois’s cannabis legalization legislation. It aims to give a leg up to license applicants from overpoliced, underinvested, and primarily minority neighborhoods. However, despite the promise of fairness, they must wait a while longer.

Cannabis Licenses for New Businesses Delayed

The state postponed the issuance of 75 new dispensary licenses for recreational adult use of cannabis until mid-July, more than two months past the target date of May 1st. These licenses prioritized “social equity” business owners in an effort to diversify a white- and male-dominated industry.

The delay can be largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. K.P.M.G., an outside accounting firm reviewing the applications, was suddenly limited in its capacity to help. At the same time, a legislative logjam forced the cannabis program’s overseers to expand the approval timeline. After temporary tie-breaker rules expired, used if two applicants received the same amount of points, they added two 45-day periods for public comment and official response.

Toi Hutchinson, Illinois’s so-called “pot czar,” says to expect the first licenses by mid-July. The first batch of new cannabis businesses won’t find out if they will be allowed to open for a few more weeks. Assuming, of course, that we don’t encounter another complication.

Cannabis and COVID-19 Collide

Although caused by external factors, the state’s delay exposes and exacerbates inherited inequalities inside our economy. Many already-existing medical dispensaries were licensed to start selling recreational cannabis months ago. These businesses, already situated to succeed given their priority access to licenses, strengthen their standing while new businesses still wait to open. Until new licenses are issued, dispensaries that qualified for “early approval” (i.e. those with medical licenses) continue to corner the cannabis market. For those new to the industry, including social equity entrepreneurs, the dream has once more been deferred.


Hutchinson made her remarks in a meeting with the Cook County Cannabis Commission. You can find a recording here. Toi addresses the delay around 1:11:30.

Original reporting from Block Club Chicago


Interested in starting a cannabis business?

Find out if you could be a Social Equity Applicant