To address immediate issues facing the newly forming legalized cannabis industry in Illinois, especially in light of the pandemic, State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) successfully passed legislation out of the Illinois Senate today to expedite the hiring process for new employees, ensure a fair marketplace for independent cannabis businesses and rectify inconsistencies in the law.

“This plan came about through cooperation across the aisle and between both chambers of the legislature, with input from the governor’s administration, law enforcement, and business,” Steans said. “I am grateful for their hard work and for our ability to get this done despite the challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic.”

Currently, employees of cannabis dispensaries face a 45-day backlog between when they apply for a job and when a background check clears them to begin work. Under the plan passed today, new hires could begin work provisionally as they await a background check’s results.

“This backlog was unsustainable even before the pandemic,” Steans said. “As dispensaries need new employees, and so many people are out of work due to the pandemic, this change is immediately necessary.”

The measure also allows medical cannabis patients to fill their prescriptions at any licensed dispensary. Under current law, a cannabis patient is tied to a particular dispensary.

“In light of adult use legalization, the uncertainty the pandemic has caused for travel, and concerns about possible supply issues, this restriction is a barrier that medical patients just shouldn’t need to overcome,” Steans said.

The legislation also places some regulations on how cannabis cultivators supply dispensaries, and when and how cannabis businesses can move in the interest of ensuring a fair marketplace that will be accommodating to new businesses that are granted licenses due to the state’s equity program. Dispensaries established under the state’s older medical use rules and now find themselves in areas where local government has opted out of adult use may relocate under the legislation, but must wait to do so until after an upcoming series of business licenses are approved by state regulators.

“We must ensure that the benefits of cannabis aren’t just going to privileged corporations,” Steans said. “The state’s equity program gives consideration to business owners from communities that have been harmed by the War on Drugs and should benefit from our recovery from it.”

The measure also limits how larger cannabis cultivators are allowed to supply dispensaries in an attempt to ensure smaller, independent dispensaries are not at a significant disadvantage when it comes to their supply.

“New, independent cannabis dispensaries are entering a market already occupied by established businesses,” Steans said. “These small shops should not be at a disadvantage when it comes to real estate and supply.”

Among other changes enacted by House Bill 123, sponsored by Steans in the Senate:

  • No special district taxes on cannabis. Special district taxing bodies (e.g. mosquito abatement districts, cemetery management districts, and many others in Illinois) would not be able to impose taxes on cannabis.
  • Clarifications for publishers. In addition to clarifying how the Freedom of Information Act applies to adult use cannabis business regulation, the law also clarifies that advertising restrictions do not penalize publications who merely report on cannabis.
  • Eliminating the conflict on where a cultivation center can be located. Location restrictions differ between older and newer statute. Under the legislation, newer statutes supersede older ones.
  • Ending double-taxing on cannabis vaping products. Due to an oversight, cannabis vaping products are taxed as both electronic cigarettes and cannabis products under current law. The legislation ensures they are not subject to the e-cigarette tax.

House Bill 123 passed the Senate 46-10. It awaits a vote of concurrence from the Illinois House.

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