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Illinois issues 48 new craft cannabis grower licenses in step that helps diversify the industry

by staff

Illinois issued 48 new marijuana craft grow licenses Wednesday, continuing slow progress in expanding and diversifying the industry.

Twenty of the new licenses are majority Black-owned, 17 are majority white-owned, and four are majority Hispanic-owned, with the rest owned by a partnership group or not providing specific information.

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All the new licensees qualified as social equity applicants, meaning they lived in areas of high poverty or frequent cannabis arrests, or they or their immediate family members had a prior minor cannabis criminal record, or have more than half their employees meeting those criteria.

The news means that applicants can now get financing to pursue their dreams, and can restart the process of acquiring real estate, getting zoning approval, beginning construction, hiring employees and buying supplies.

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“This is very good news,” said attorney Don Craven, who represents several companies that won licenses. “It adds a level of certainty they have not had.”

Many growers expect to take six months to a year or more to open. Of the first batch of up to 40 craft grows authorized in 2021, just three recently received permits to begin construction.

The announcement means that nearly half of all 341 craft growers, transporters and infusers licensed by the state Department of Agriculture are Black or brown majority-owned firms.

But state law limits craft growers to 5,000 square feet of growing space, a tiny fraction of the 210,000 square feet of canopy space that the originally licensed, white-owned cultivation centers are allowed.

Craft growers hope new legislation will increase their size limit, which would make it easier to get financing.

In a separate matter, a Cook County judge last week allowed the state to issue up to 185 new licenses for recreational marijuana stores, though they are still held up by a federal lawsuit challenging residency requirements. Illinois law also requires the state to issue at least 50 additional store licenses by the end of 2022.

rmccoppin@chicagotribune.com

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