Controversy over the application process for the state of Illinois’ 75 social equity licenses to open cannabis dispensaries found its way into court on Friday and is expected to be given a full hearing next Thursday, September 17.
U.S. District Court Judge Jorge L. Alonso heard preliminary arguments Friday from both sides of a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of 21 plaintiffs, applicants that did not make the final cut to win the licenses.
At the heart of the complaint (officially titled Southshore Restore and Heartland Greens v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation; Brett Bender, Deputy Director), is the way hundreds of applications were scored by state contractor KPMG, and whether applicants who had incomplete or deficient applications were given a 10-day notice from the state to “cure” those problems.
John Loevy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, charged that some applicants were notified of deficiencies in their applications and were allowed to correct them, while others didn’t know they missed points on their applications until after the finalists were announced on September 3. “There were a whole lot of teams that were dinged by a few points here and a few points there,” which knocked them out of the running, Loevy said.
All 21 groups who made the final cut to be entered into the state lottery for 75 awards distributed among 17 Illinois regions had perfect application scores of 252 points.
Attorneys for the unhappy applicants also noted that some of the 21 who made it to the lottery appeared to have close political connections, including one to a former Chicago Police Department superintendent. Rules for the current round of Illinois dispensary licenses had been designed to make it easier for individuals and groups from economically disadvantaged areas to take part in the application process.
In the meantime, attorneys for state regulators made it clear on Friday that no definitive date has been set for the lottery while things get sorted out, so a court-ordered stop was not necessary. A September 23 lottery date had been floated, but that would be the earliest possible, the attorneys said.