Lawsuit that challenged marijuana licensing process in Illinois is dropped, clearing way for lottery
A Michigan company Tuesday dropped its lawsuit challenging Illinois’ plans for authorizing new marijuana businesses, allowing the state to proceed with awarding the licenses.
Sozo Illinois Inc. voluntarily dismissed the suit, filed this month, without explanation.
That appears to clear the way for the state to hold the first of three lotteries Thursday to award 55 licenses to applicants who scored 85% or better on their applications for recreational cannabis stores.
Advocates for Black and Latino applicants held a news conference Tuesday pleading with Sozo to drop the suit.
“We cannot have these carpetbaggers coming into Illinois that are not serious about diversity,” Chicago NORML Executive Director Edie Moore said.
The licenses have been delayed for more than a year, initially due to issues related to COVID-19, then due to problems with scoring the applications. The scoring, conducted by consultant KPMG, resulted in just 21 applicants achieving perfect, tied scores and qualifying for a tiebreaking lottery.
Unsuccessful applications objected and filed suits, claiming the process was unfair, because identical exhibits were scored differently. Wealthy, clouted, white male applicants won a significant portion of perfect scores, instead of the Black and Latino applicants who were meant to get an advantage as “social equity” applicants from areas hurt by the war on drugs.
In response, state officials decided to rescore the applications. Gov. J.B. Pritzker this month signed into law a measure to hold three lotteries to award the licenses. The second will be held Aug. 5, and the third on Aug. 19.
Sozo Illinois Inc. claims the law unfairly lowered its chances of getting the new licenses. One part of the law gives bonus points in scoring applications from Illinois-based companies, while another removed a bonus for hiring 10 people from areas hurt by the war on drugs — both of which hurt Sozo. The suit sought a court order to stop the lotteries.
The suit cited a pattern of Illinois politics “marred by backroom self-dealing between politically connected and powerful factions that undermines the supposed benefits to the public …”
Pritzker spokeswoman Charity Greene responded with this statement: “As it has been from the very beginning, the top priority for the Pritzker administration remains establishing a legal cannabis industry in Illinois that is equitable and reflects the diversity of communities across the state.”
The state issued a video explaining that the Illinois Lottery will conduct the drawings electronically, with an auditor, using numbers assigned to each applicant to ensure the lottery is done randomly without knowing the identity of the applicants. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will then match the numbers to the applicants and notify them.