The Illinois House voted Tuesday to make significant changes to the state’s system for awarding licenses to marijuana dispensaries, a move that lawmakers say aims to help minority residents open businesses in the rapidly-growing field.
The bill, sponsored by State Rep. LaShawn Ford, will seek to allow minority business owners get a foothold in the cannabis industry, something he says the original structure failed to achieve.
“Like the War on Drugs, the rollout of cannabis licenses has disproportionately impacted communities of color,” Ford said. “We now have an opportunity to correct the missteps of the original lottery process by refocusing on the intent of the legalization bill. Instead of allowing the wealthy few to maintain control of this new industry, let’s give people in areas that have been left behind a real opportunity to start a local business that is owned and operated by members of the community.”
According to lawmakers, House Bill 1443 would award 110 new cannabis dispensary licenses in a pair of lotteries. Those licenses would be targeted toward Black, Hispanic and other minority residents, according to a press release from Ford’s office.
One of the lotteries would prioritize those who were previously arrested or convicted of cannabis-related offenses in the state.
The bill would also pave the way for 75 more licenses to be distributed. According to Ford’s office, those licenses have been in limbo because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Today’s vote puts us on a more equitable path forward, and I want to thank Representative Ford and everyone involved for their hard work to implement a fair process open to every community,” said Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch in a statement. “It’s important that the legislature monitors the progress of this industry in Illinois, and continue to be prepared to act as necessary.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that he supports the measure, and intends to sign it when it arrives on his desk.
“As a state that values making our laws reflective of our diverse communities, we must ensure that social justice is at the center of everything we do, and today, that means building upon our work of passing the most equity-centric cannabis law in the nation,” the governor said in a statement. “By authorizing additional lotteries that are focused on social equity applicants, we’re ensuring that communities have been left out and left behind have new opportunities to access the cannabis industry.”
Cannabis revenues in Illinois have soared in the new year, with nearly $115 million in sales reported in the month of April. That number made it the highest-grossing month since recreational cannabis became legal in the state, and even outpaced the tax revenue generated from liquor sales, according to state officials.
The measure will now head to the Illinois Senate.