Virus Delays Second Round Of Illinois Marijuana Licenses

By Diana Novak Jones
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Law360 (June 30, 2020, 7:45 PM EDT) -- Illinois will miss another deadline to award marijuana licenses, a state agency said Tuesday, delaying awards of craft grower, infuser and transporter licenses that were expected to be awarded July 1.

Citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Monday pushing back the deadline for the licenses, which was dictated by Illinois' Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has no new deadline to make the awards, which include up to 40 craft grower licenses, up to 40 infuser licenses and an unlimited number of transporter licenses, it said in an announcement.

The application deadline for the licenses was itself delayed by six weeks, from March 16 to the end of April, according to the state.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and the six-week deadline extension granted to applicants have caused unforeseeable delays in the application review process," Illinois' Department of Agriculture acting Director Jerry Costello said in a statement. "The department is working tirelessly to ensure that applications are scored and awarded in a fair, deliberate and equitable manner."

Additionally, the state has suspended the application deadline for licenses for community colleges that want to run vocational programs for the cannabis industry. It is also holding off on the requirement that currently licensed cultivators get a transportation license.

Tuesday's announcement is the second time Illinois — the newest state to legalize marijuana for adult use — has pushed back awarding licenses since the pandemic began. At the end of April, just days before the state was set to award up to 75 retail licenses, Pritzker announced the awards would be delayed due to the virus.

To date, those licenses have not been given out. Illinois' Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees those licenses, has said the delay could continue as long as Illinois' gubernatorial disaster proclamations are in place.

The delays have a large impact on businesses applying under the state's social equity criteria. The delayed rounds were the first time they could submit applications to operate in Illinois.

As the delays drag on, many applicants already paying rent or other expenses on spaces they hope will eventually hold legal marijuana businesses will have to shoulder that cost indefinitely.

Shelli Williams Hayes is a former Cook County Circuit Court judge who is now co-owner of a marijuana business that has applied for licenses under Illinois' social equity program.

All told, the business has pending applications for 12 licenses, including retail, craft grower and transportation, Hayes told Law360.

"All you can do is weather the storm," Hayes said Tuesday after news of the second delay broke. "The states are having problems, I realize that. We're all going through our own individual crises, day to day — all you can do is keep your head up and know that this too shall pass."

--Additional reporting by Sarah Jarvis. Editing by Stephen Berg.

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