Equity Project State Briefing
Is Cannabis Legal in Illinois?
Cannabis in Illinois is legal for both medical and adult use.
Date of Legalization
Illinois legalized cannabis for medical use in 2013 through the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act. Illinois went on to legalize the adult use of cannabis in 2019 through the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.
In the Illinois adult use framework, state residents 21+ may possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 500 milligrams of cannabis in THC-infused products, or 5 grams of cannabis concentrate. Illinois visitors are able to possess half those amounts. Unlike medical marijuana patients, adult users are not permitted to grow marijuana at home. Within the medical framework a patient may possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis within a 14 day period unless given a waiver by a certifying health care professional. Medical patients are allowed to grow five plants at a time.
Other Licensing Provisions
- License Caps:
The state of Illinois does have licensing caps within its adult use framework, which have shifted and increased over time due to litigation and additional laws. The law specifies how many of each license type can be distributed in each region of the state, based on the region’s percentage of the state’s population. Additionally, localities with over 500,000 residents can opt out of participating in adult use sales.
Application Selection Process
- Selection System:
Illinois distributes its adult use cannabis licenses through a “Qualified Lottery.” The lottery is limited to applicants who have at least 213 of 250 points (85%) awarded as part of the application scoring.
Felony Disqualification on Ownership
- Ownership Exclusion for Felony Convictions:
- Exemption for Cannabis Offenses:
The state of Illinois does not specifically disqualify applicants from cannabis licensure due to past convictions, however applicants must complete a background check to prove they are of “good moral character.” No application for licensure shall be denied by reason of a finding of lack of good moral character when the finding is based solely upon the fact that the applicant has previously been convicted of one or more criminal offenses.
When reviewing a prior conviction of an initial applicant for the purpose of determining good moral character, the Department must consider evidence of rehabilitation and mitigating factors in the applicant’s record, including the specific factors set forth within the law (in subsection (a) of Section 2105-131 of this Act [20 ILCS 2105/2105-131).
The department should review mitigating factors and evidence of rehabilitation to determine whether a prior conviction will impair the ability of the applicant to engage in the practice for which a license is sought.
Employee Criminal Records
- Conviction Restrictions for Employees:
- Exemption for Cannabis Offenses:
Cannabis employees are required to have the proper state badging which includes a state level background check. Employers may conduct background checks on employees in compliance with the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, and the The Employee Background Fairness Act, Illinois version of a Ban the Box provisions. An employer is not allowed to require an employee to disclose sealed or expunged offenses, unless otherwise required by law.
In January 2021, the Illinois legislature passed “The Employee Background Fairness Act” (Senate Bill 1480) to make using criminal records in employment decisions a civil rights violation unless there is a “substantial relationship” between the record and job or an “unreasonable risk” to property or the safety of individuals or the general public. Employers must now consider these factors: The length of time since the conviction; The number of convictions that appear on the conviction record; The nature and severity of the conviction and its relationship to the safety and security of others; The facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction; The age of the employee at the time of the conviction; and Evidence of rehabilitation efforts.
Availability of Expungements
Illinois offers automatic expungements for cannabis convictions of possessions of 30 grams or less which occurred prior to June 2019. Automatic expungements will occur at different intervals based on the date of the offense. All records should be expunged by January 1, 2025. Individuals may petition the court to expunge convictions for possession of up to 500 grams and sale of up to 30 grams.
Social Equity Definition / Criteria
Illinois was the first state in which the legislature legalized adult-use cannabis with a social equity program included— however as of January 15, 2022, no social equity operators in Illinois have begun business due to delays caused by lawsuits.
In the state of Illinois, “Social Equity Applicant” means an applicant that is an Illinois resident that meets one of the following criteria:
(1) an applicant with at least 51% ownership and control by one or more individuals who have resided for at least 5 of the preceding 10 years in a Disproportionately Impacted Area;
(2) an applicant with at least 51% ownership and control by one or more individuals who:
(i) have been arrested for, convicted of, or adjudicated delinquent for any offense that is eligible for expungement under this Act; or
(ii) is a member of an impacted family;
(3) for applicants with a minimum of 10 full-time employees, an applicant with at least 51% of current employees who:
(i) currently reside in a Disproportionately Impacted Area; or
(ii) have been arrested for, convicted of, or adjudicated delinquent for any offense that is eligible for expungement under this Act or member of an impacted family.
Social Equity Provisions
Illinois Social Equity program proposes to provide forthcoming participants with the following resources:
Access to low-interest loans for starting and operating a cannabis-related business
View the Administrative Rules for the Social Equity Cannabis Loan Program.
License Priorities and Set Asides
In Illinois, the Department can reserve up to 55 additional Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization (retail) licenses for Qualifying Social Equity Justice Involved Applicants. The law specifies how many of the reserved licenses can be distributed in each region of the state.
Fee Waivers and Reductions
In Illinois, qualified social equity applicants are given a 50% discount on all application fees, licensing fees and other financial requirements. For example the normal application fee is $5,000 with a biannual licensing fee of $60,000 however for social equity applicants the application fee is only $2,500 with a $30,000 biannual licensing fee.
Other Financial Support for Social Equity Applicants and Licensees
Illinois allocates funding to support their social equity program. As soon as practical after July 1, 2019, the Illinois will transfer $12,000,000 from the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Fund to the Cannabis Business Development Fund. Additionally, all money collected from medical cannabis companies for Early Approval Adult Use Dispensing Organization Licenses issued before January 1, 2021 will be deposited into the Cannabis Business Development Fund.
The Cannabis Business Development Fund will be exclusively used for the following purposes: