Illinois Recreational Marijuana Licensing: A High-Level Overview

Illinois is expected to be one of the largest retail marijuana markets in the country, and plenty of budding pot entrepreneurs will want to get in on the action and meet consumer demand by opening adult use dispensaries. And if you’re going to legally sell weed to the masses, you’ll have to pass muster with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (the “Act”) signed into law earlier this year, IDFPR is charged with implementing and administrating multiple aspects of the state’s adult use marijuana program, including the licensing and oversight of dispensing organizations. Needless to say, IDFPR won’t be passing around dispensary licenses without ensuring that applicants meet the Act’s multitude of requirements and limitations on dispensary ownership and operations.

On a very high level, here is what you need to know before firing up your efforts to apply for a license to open a recreational marijuana dispensary in the Land of Lincoln:

When to Apply

Applications for Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization Licenses will be available no later than October 1, 2019, and will be due no later than January 1, 2020. These licenses are “conditional” in that they do not allow the licensee to purchase or sell marijuana until they have found a suitable location (which they must do within 180 days), passed an inspection by IDFPR, and paid the registration fee.

Once these requirements are met, the Department will award the licensee an Adult Use Dispensing Organization License, which authorizes the holder to legally obtain and sell cannabis pursuant to the Act.

Costs of Application and License

The costs involved in applying for and maintaining an adult use license depends on whether or not the applicant is a “Social Equity Applicant.” In an effort to promote and ensure socio-economic diversity and opportunity in the Illinois cannabis industry, the Act provides for reduced fees and other accommodations for applicants from economically disadvantaged areas in the state.

The application fee is $5,000 for Non-Social Equity applicants and $2,500 for Social Equity Applicants. The fee for maintaining a two-year license is $60,000 for Non-Social Equity licensees and $30,000 for Social Equity licensees.

Number of Available Licenses

IDFPR may grant up to 75 adult-use dispensary licenses by May 1, 2020, and up to 110 licenses by December 21, 2021. But the law imposes limitations on the number of licenses IDFPR may issue for each of the 17 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Regions in Illinois based on that region’s percentage of the state population. The number of available licenses per BLS region is:

  • Bloomington: 1
  • Cape Girardeau: 1
  • Carbondale-Marion 1
  • Champaign-Urbana: 1
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin: 47
  • Danville: 1
  • Davenport-Moline-Rock Island: 1
  • Decatur: 1
  • Kankakee: 1
  • Peoria: 3
  • Rockford: 2
  • Louis: 4
  • Springfield: 1
  • Northwest Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 3
  • West Central Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 3
  • East Central Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 2
  • South Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 2

Criteria for Choosing Winning Applicants

There will be a heck of a lot more than 75 applicants for these 75 licenses, so IDFPR will use a point system based on numerous factors to determine who will receive licenses. Those who score highest on the following 250-point scale will be the most likely to be opening dispensary doors next year:

  • Suitability of Employee Training Plan (15 points)
  • Security and Record-Keeping (65 points)
  • Business Plan, Financials, Operating Plan, and Floor Plan (65 points)
  • Knowledge and Experience in Cannabis or Related Fields (30 points)
  • Status as a Social Equity Applicant (50 points)
  • Labor and Employment Practices (5 points)
  • Environmental Plan (5 points)
  • Illinois Owner (5 points)
  • Status as a Veteran (5 points)
  • Diversity Plan (5 points)

Ownership Requirements

Not every aspiring dispensary owner will be eligible to receive a license. In addition to being 21 or older, “principal officers” of the business (pretty much anyone with any ownership stake or management authority) must not have been “convicted of an offense that would impair the person’s ability to engage in the practice of owning a dispensary.” IDFPR will use several criteria when evaluating the impact of a principal officer’s previous conviction on their application.

These are just some of the issues involved in applying for and obtaining an adult use cannabis dispensary license in Illinois. While IDFPR may be the body granting licenses, applicants will also have to deal with local governments which will have a big say in whether and where a dispensary can set up shop.

If you are considering entering the legal cannabis industry in Illinois and have questions about the IDFPR application process and criteria, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Higher Math: Do Illinois Accountants Face Ethics or Licensing Issues for Working With the Medical Marijuana Industry?

$44 billion is a lot of green. That is also the amount of revenue the legal marijuana industry is expected to generate in the U.S. by 2020. As more states permit by ballot initiative or legislation either the medical or recreational sale and use of pot, complex regulatory and taxation regimes have been established to keep tabs on growers, distributors, and dispensaries.

Complicating things even more is the fact that most legal marijuana businesses operate on a cash only basis since pot remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level.  But all that cannabis cash needs to be accounted for, and CPAs across the country find themselves in high demand by the marijuana industry, raising questions about whether providing accounting services for businesses which technically violate federal law raise any ethical or licensing issues.

State Boards Largely Saying OK

Accounting boards in many states with established medical or recreation marijuana programs have weighed in on the matter, largely concluding that providing services to a state-legal marijuana enterprise is not in and of itself problematic or a basis for disciplinary action. All state boards who have issued opinions on the subject emphasize that all other applicable professional standards must be adhered to, caution about possible federal law issues, and advise accountants to seek counsel before a marijuana engagement. That said, the following excerpts from some of those boards make it relatively clear that if pot is legal where the services are being provided, the board won’t be taking any action based simply on the provision of those services:

  • Arizona. “…the Arizona Board of Accountancy has concluded that merely accepting an engagement to provide accounting services to a medical marijuana dispensary does not, on its face, constitute an act discreditable to the profession and it will not pursue independent disciplinary action against an Arizona CPA registrant based solely on such acceptance.”
  • Colorado. “It is the Board’s position that offering to perform or performing professional services for clients in the marijuana industry who are in compliance with Colorado Medical Marijuana Code and the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code is not in itself specifically prohibited by the Accountancy Act…”
  • Connecticut. “…in the absence of such a determination by the courts, the Connecticut Board of Accountancy will not pursue independent disciplinary action against Connecticut CPAs or CPA firms who are operating within the bounds of state law” as to marijuana.
  • Florida. “… the provision of public accounting services… to marijuana-related businesses in states where marijuana-related businesses have been legalized, in the absence of a criminal conviction of the certified public accountant for the provision of those services, in and of itself does not constitute a lack of good moral character.”
  • Maryland. “…in light of the current state of Maryland and Federal law, the Board will take no regulatory action against a CPA or firm solely on the basis that the CPA or firm provides services to a business involved in the sale or distribution of marijuana, provided that the business is operating legally under applicable state law.”
  • Nevada. “After careful consideration, the Board has determined that Nevada licensees and firms that elect to provide services to the marijuana industry legalized in any state in which the licensee practices will not face action by the Board based solely on the fact that the licensee or firm is providing such services.”

According to the AICPA, in a very helpful and comprehensive issue brief on the subject, “As of May 2015, the AICPA is not aware of any state boards of accountancy that have taken action against a CPA for providing services to a marijuana business, nor has the AICPA Professional Ethics Team received any referrals from state boards for such action.”

What About Illinois?

Here in Illinois, 2014’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act created a four-year roll out allowing sick and dying patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions access to medical cannabis. The Act permits up to 22 cannabis-growing operations and 60 licensed retail dispensaries to operate across the state.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) registers, licenses and regulates the dispensaries, and the Illinois Department of Revenue regulates marijuana taxation, which is subject to privilege taxes, occupation taxes and other industry specific surcharges.

Illinois’ Administrative Rules supporting the medical cannabis program effectively mandate that dispensaries retain CPAs as they must engage in, and submit to the IDFPR, annual audits compiled and certified by an auditor or CPA.

So far, however, the Illinois Public Accountant Registration and Licensure Committee has yet to issue guidance on serving the medical marijuana industry in the state beyond advising CPAs to seek legal counsel before deciding to whether to provide services to a medical marijuana business.

While CPAs should definitely follow the Committee’s advice and seek out a professional licensing attorney for advice, I would anticipate that as Illinois’ medical marijuana program grows, and CPAs see an increasingly fertile area for business, the Committee will issue an opinion largely in line with states that have already concluded that serving the legal weed industry won’t harsh an accountant’s mellow from a disciplinary perspective.

Louis Fine: Chicago CPA License Defense Attorney

As a former Chief Prosecuting Attorney and administrative law judge for IDFPR, I have seen the serious consequences that an adverse enforcement decision can have on accountants and other professionals who suddenly find their future in disarray. I understand how and why the Department decides to pursue investigations, how it handles negotiations, and how to approach formal proceedings in a way that gives my clients the best possible chance of a positive and expeditious outcome.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.