State refining rules to benefit ‘social equity’ applicants for medical pot dispensary license available in Hyde Park Township

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (Herald file photo)

Staff writer

A state license for a medical marijuana dispensary is available in Hyde Park Township, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration is incorporating incorporating “social equity” standards in the licensing application process. That dispensary would be able to start selling recreational pot before the state extends more licenses to open dispensaries in May.

Amid the fracas at the Dec. 18 City Council meeting, when Black Caucus-supported aldermen tried to prevent the sale of recreational marijuana in Chicago until July to protest the lack of nonwhite people in the business, came a supposed promise from Pritzker’s administration to “earmark” a dispensary for Hyde Park and Chinatown.

But Jordan Abudayyeh, Pritzker’s spokeswoman, pushed back on the implication that the state government had earmarked medical marijuana licenses to defeat the bid to delay pot sales.

Instead, the social equity standards will benefit applicants who have been disproportionately affected by the effects of the War on Drugs. Whoever gets to open the medical dispensary in Hyde Park Township will be able to apply to begin selling recreational pot before the state awards up to 75 more recreational dispensary licenses on May 1.

Currently, there are five more medical dispensary licenses available in Illinois. The state authorized 60 medical dispensaries under administrative rules and established districts with a set number of licenses available to geographically disperse them.

Districts in Chicago are organized by townships. Two dispensaries are allowed in Hyde Park Township, and one is authorized in South Township, which includes Chinatown. One medical dispensary, Mission Chicago South Shore Medical Marijuana Dispensary, 8554 S. Commercial Ave., exists in Hyde Park Township; there are none in South Township.

Revisions made to the Medical Cannabis Act in the spring added social equity standards to the medical cannabis program, but rulemaking is required to incorporate them into the application process. Abudayyeh says the rulemaking process is going on now.

“The state is working to finalize social equity standards for the remaining medical licenses and has to work through the rule-making process to get that done,” she said in a statement. “When the rules are approved, applications for the remaining medical licenses will be opened for applicants, and we will follow the application process to award those licenses.”

On Dec. 18, Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th), who chairs the Black Caucus, said in an interview that he had not reviewed all the nuances of the administration’s plan, “but in principle, that is what was agreed to.

“I think that out push has always been for inclusion at this early level, with the dispensaries in the City of Chicago, so this moves us towards that goal,” he said.

Hyde Park Township extends far beyond Hyde Park neighborhood, but Ald. Leslie Hairston says several cannabis entrepreneurs have approached her about opening a dispensary in the 5th Ward. In a Dec. 19 interview, she said the incorporation of social equity rules into the medical dispensary licensing process is “what the Black Caucus was talking about.”

“There was really supposed to have been social equity all along, and the way it was set up, there was no sense of a social equity component. That’s what we were asking for.” she said. “I think that we should have opportunity; there should be opportunity everywhere.”

Medical dispensaries statewide have until March 1 to to apply to start selling recreational pot. Many in Chicago, including Mission Chicago South Shore, have already gotten permission to begin selling to anyone 21 or older on New Year’s Day.

The social equity standards — which cover people who live in areas disproportionately impacted by unemployment, poverty or higher-than-average cannabis arrests, people who have been or are family with people who have been arrested in the War on Drugs and companies which hire over half their workers from disproportionately impacted areas — have implications for recreational cannabis dispensaries.

Those who meet the standards can apply for a license at a half of the $5,000 application fee and have all non-refundable fees waived for up to two applications.