Amid grumbles that rich white owners may be getting a head start in his administration’s slow rollout of legal cannabis, Governor J.B. Pritzker insisted Wednesday that the state had intentionally moved slowly to prevent anyone from getting an unfair advantage.
“We want the industry to be diverse,” Pritzker said. “We want black people and brown people, we want people who have been left out and left behind to have real opportunity to not only benefit from this new industry, but to create new millionaires.”
Former State Senator Toi Hutchinson, tasked by Pritzker to oversee marijuana regulation, suggested those who complain that only existing medical facilities that are getting the first licenses are missing the bigger picture.
“This is designed specifically to be small enough to protect future market share for those equity applicants to come on board,” she said. “To concentrate only on what happens January 1st misses the fact that we’re really looking at changing an entire industry—January 1st is only the beginning.”
To date, only 30 dispensary licenses have been issued. The state expects 500 by the time the program is fully deployed. Next week, regulators will begin accepting applications from so-called “equity” applicants from traditionally disadvantaged communities.
“In Illinois we’re different,” Pritzker said. “Our social equity applicants will be eligible for the 75 licenses that come online in just a few months, and be able to get business loans to get off the ground funded by the existing industry.”
Appearing for a festive event where he signed a trailer bill designed to tighten the state’s new cannabis law, Pritzker found himself on the defensive about Hutchinson’s appointment as the state’s marijuana chief. After she was first announced as the first-ever cannabis regulation oversight officer, it was pointed out that the state constitution prohibited such an appointment for a lawmaker who voted on the position’s creation. Pritzker appeared to backtrack, and instead installed the former senator in his office as a $220,000 senior advisor on cannabis regulation.
His office has insisted there was no such retreat, and on Wednesday, the governor said it was important to have Hutchinson in charge of the larger picture.
“We recognized early on that what we really needed was someone who was not wedged into one agency,” he said. “Because remember, we have multiple agencies that are involved here.”
The governor said the cannabis oversight officer’s position, in the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, will still be filled.