CHICAGO — Illinois awarded its first recreational marijuana licenses Thursday to five medical dispensaries. The stores can begin selling cannabis to non-medicinal consumers on Jan. 1.
The dispensaries include The Clinic Mundelein, The Clinic Effingham, Salveo Health and Wellness in Canton, and the 3C Compassionate Care Center locations in Naperville and Joliet.
Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries owns four of those shops, and has a 50% ownership stake in the Clinic Effingham.
"GTI is thrilled that our five stores received the state of Illinois' first approvals," GTI spokeswoman Linda Marsicano said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing the excellent partnerships we have in the communities we serve across the state."
Illinois has 55 medical cannabis dispensaries that were all able to apply to sell recreational marijuana from their existing locations. They can also apply to open a second shop. More licenses are expected to be awarded.
The state's new marijuana law, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law earlier this summer, allows municipalities to ban recreational sales. Many eyes have been on Naperville in recent weeks as the city council debates whether to allow recreational sales in the western suburb. A recently formed group is set to hold a rally Saturday in hopes of persuading the city council to ban pot sales.
GTI has had a great relationship with Naperville since 2015, Marsicano said.
"We continue to talk and work with the city on this important issue," she said.
Cannabis companies are concerned about the administration's strict interpretation of the word "location" in the law legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana. The legislation's lead sponsors, state Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, told Gov. J.B. Pritzker in a letter last week that the administration's stance "threatens the success of the program."
You have free articles remaining.
After initially telling medical marijuana companies that they would be able to relocate their existing stores and still seek a license to sell recreational pot, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation changed its interpretation, according to the letter the Chicago Democrats sent Pritzker on Aug. 22.
The agency has told operators that if a medical dispensary moves, it will not be awarded a license to sell recreational marijuana, the letter said. That's a problem for the shops that may want to move because they are located in municipalities that have banned or are considering a ban on pot sales.
The lawmakers urged Pritzker to intervene and ask the department to "interpret the law as the legislature intended."
So far, the administration appears unmoved. Pritzker said in a response Tuesday that the state doesn't know how many shops would be affected, as many municipalities haven't decided on how to regulate recreational sales.
"My office is more than willing to discuss potential solutions with you when we have a better understanding of the scope of the problem," he said in the letter.
The state has to balance the needs of existing businesses with the law's goal of creating greater "social equity" in the marijuana industry, Pritzker said, noting that existing medical dispensary operators can still seek licenses for a secondary retail location under the law.
Chris Slaby, a spokesman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, deferred to Pritzker's office on the issue.
Steans did not respond immediately Thursday to a request for comment. Cassidy was not available.
Pam Althoff, a former Republican state senator who now heads the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, said the industry also is committed "to assuring that the social equity ... component of this legislation absolutely works."
"We'd love to be able to sit down with the administration and walk through some of these issues," Althoff said.