Recreational sales

Customers wait in line Jan. 2 outside of HCI Alternatives in Springfield to purchase marijuana for recreational use. In the state’s seventh month of legalization, new applicants to the industry have been left in the lurch as the granting of new licenses has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SPRINGFIELD — One of the few things unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic’s presence in Illinois has been recreational marijuana sales.

The $47.6 million spent on the product in June was the highest single-month amount since recreational marijuana use became legal at the beginning of the year, and sales have increased each month since February even amid strict stay-at-home orders.

Still, while sales boom, the facets of the landmark legalization law that were put in place specifically to diversify the largely white male-dominated industry have not moved forward as planned.

A round of dispensary licenses scheduled for release on May 1, as well as craft grower and other licenses scheduled to be granted July 1, have been indefinitely delayed.

Toi Hutchinson, a former state senator and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s lead cannabis policy advisor, said the state is doing all it can to expedite the licensing process but the pandemic created a “perfect storm.” That has led to the delays for application filers and a third-party grader that was enlisted to make sure nobody gets an undue leg up in the application process.

“That’s one piece, but the other piece is that all government shut down,” Hutchinson said in a phone call Wednesday. “It didn’t stop the work but it’s slowed it. … People had to figure out how to do what it is we needed to do on almost hourly basis for a novel virus that we didn’t see coming.”

As one of the strongest advocates for the law’s social equity measures while she served in the Senate, Hutchinson said she was acutely aware of the setbacks caused to the groups the legislation was designed to help enter the market.

The social equity applicants — those whose majority ownership stakes include persons disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs — have been especially left in the lurch as their expenses mount and clarity as to when licenses will be released is lacking.

On Thursday, Hutchinson gave a ballpark date as to when the applicants might have that clarity.

“Well, we know that by the date that we filed the permanent rule for the tiebreaker scenario … will be in place in September,” she said. “The minute those things are in place we can go to the tiebreaker phase.”

She added, “We’re coming to the end part of the arc.”

“I just really want people to stay as encouraged as possible because we know how hard this was, and we know how difficult it was and we know how much people really are watching to see how this ... and it’s not just us here — the world is watching,” Hutchinson said.

She said that while the original bill was written so that new licenses would be granted on a staggered timeline — first dispensaries, then craft growers — that schedule “was obliterated with the delays.”

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