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Some Look to Streamline Illinois’ Cannabis Regulations with Statewide Commission

(The Center Square) – To simplify the state’s regulation of the legal cannabis industry while working to reduce litigation and the specter of politics, some in Illinois are looking to create a statewide cannabis commission.

As it is right now, entrepreneurs in the adult-use and medical cannabis industry in Illinois have multiple state agencies they have to work through to get licensed and regulated. Application fees can be expensive and meeting various other requirements like being an social equity applicant can add more burdens. State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, wants to reduce the touch points by creating a cannabis commission similar to the state’s liquor or gaming commissions.

“It’s about centralizing things and time management,” Evans told The Center Square. “Business folks don’t need the confusion. Even some of us are confused because I don’t know which agency is which. I’ve got to try to answer folks and bring out a flowchart. Why make government difficult when it can be easy.” Cannabis Business Association of Illinois Executive Director Pam Althoff said for the state to really achieve policy goals for the industry, things need to be streamlined. “You just have too many agencies with small responsibilities that just confuse stakeholders on who they’re supposed to talk to,” Althoff said.

Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issued 28 additional cannabis dispensing licenses that were selected from three lotteries. The total number of dispensaries issued licenses to date since adult-use sales became legal in January 2020 is 177.

Depending on the cannabis business, be it craft growers, manufacturers, distributors, transporters or even medicinal cannabis users and their caregivers, the state agencies involved include the Department of Agriculture, IDFPR, State Police, Department of Revenue and the Department of Public Health. Evans plans to file a standalone bill to bring about a state cannabis commission consisting of seven members – including gubernatorial appointees and equal representation from General Assembly leaders – as well as a dedicated Executive Director.

“Politics shouldn’t play a role in this,” Evans said. “We haven’t seen it now, but if we ever get a new administration, we don’t want new department heads with new ideas. A commission is more stable for the long term. That’s why we use it for the liquor commission and we use it for gaming. Because you just don’t want the sways of politics really to impact certain industries.”

Evans also said a more streamlined approach can cut down on confusion which sometimes litigants capitalize on. His commission idea is supported by the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois. Total sales in the fiscal year 2022 were $1.5 billion. Of that, the state captured $445 million in tax revenue that’s split several ways.

More than a third of the revenue goes to the state’s general revenue fund. Ten percent goes to the state’s backlog of unpaid bills. Eight percent goes to law enforcement and two percent goes to cannabis public safety campaigns. A quarter of every cannabis tax dollar collected goes to the grants for community groups in areas negatively impacted by past drug enforcement policies. Local governments can also tack on up to 3% additional sales tax.

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