How to get an Illinois cannabis retail license

How to get an Illinois cannabis retail license

If you’ve been following our columns, we’ve been talking a ton about how to get an Illinois cannabis license if you want to do business starting in 2020. You’ve got to follow a lot of rules and regs, but if you do your homework and stay on top of deadlines, you can get a license. We’re going dig a little deeper into this today, getting more into the retail side of things. So here’s more on how to get an Illinois cannabis retail license.

Now before we get into all of that, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation recently announced who’s getting the first adult use retail licenses. The five same site adult use licensees currently also operate medical marijuana dispensary stores in Mundelein, Naperville, Joliet, Canton, and Effingham. Not a surprise, but still good to know.

So basically, if you’re already in operation, you can now open a second location. The DFPR expects to receive a lot more applications as local towns and cities create zoning ordinances. Once that happens, these towns and cities will then allow adult use cannabis businesses.

A lot to take in, we know… But there’s more. If you want the State of Illinois to review and approve your paperwork for an additional site, you need to get the green light on the local level first. You got the get the approval from your town or city. So there’s that.

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

The DFPR realizes that medical cannabis businesses may find it hard to find a city that allows another store, or location that is at least 1,500 feet away from another one. So it’s first come, first served, to avoid any kind of a zoning conflict.

The DPFR will put out an the application for 75 retail licenses that are brand new to the scene, next year. When, you want to know? As of this writing, no later than October 1, 2019. The retail licenses, when the state issues them, will be handed throughout 17 designated regions in Illinois.

Applications deadline is January 1, 2020, and the winners will be announced no later than May 1, 2020. There’s a scoring system in place. The way it works, is: Security and record keeping (26%), business, finance and operating plan (26%) and social equity status (20%).

Now, in the event there’s some sort of tie between a couple of applicants (and you know there will be), the winner will be determined by who has the better community service plan. Think community service! Whether it’s in terms of your hiring pool, giving back a percentage of profits to a worthy cause, etc.. Definitely something to think about and implement.

It is not clear whether or not you’re gonna need to provide your zoning approval along with your app… Do it anyway if you can. Cover your bases. Remember, this is a January 1, 2020 submission deadline. If you’re going to go for a license, remember to stay ahead of all of this red tape. Not only is the process complicated, but there’s also a limited number of licenses.

So, you still want an adult use Illinois cannabis retail license? If you haven’t been scared off by now, read on:

How to get an Illinois cannabis retail license

1. Location, location, location

Decide where you want your dispensary to be. Remember to keep all of the restrictions in mind when you select a location.

2. Who’s running things?

Describe your org structure. Make should you detail the owners, board members, management, etc. Include bios, photos, accomplishments, especially anything related to the cannabis industry. Also, remember that social equity / 26% score we talked about earlier? How are you going to reflect that in the management structure? Put it all in the application.

3. Show me the money

How are you getting your capital? How are you putting it to good use? You’re going to need to have a solid business plans showing how you’re going to operate and when you’re doing to become profitable. Then in turn, you’ll need to show that your capital is coming from legal funds, and that they are liquid. Make sure your revenue projections are realistic, as well as your costs.

4. Don’t forget about security

What are you doing about security? Remember, the banking system has not yet been solidified on a federal level for the cannabis industry. You’re going to be a cash business – at least initially. You’ll need a security plan, backed up with data from the security industry. You’ll need to make sure you show the security plan for your dispensary, and show that it’s in compliance with town ordinances. Lastly, you’ll need to make sure that your security plan is indeed secure – that is, it can’t be hacked, altered, or cooked in any way.

5. Create an airtight business plan

Create a solid, kick-ass business plan with your partners, reflecting all of the above! Make a case for your business, how you’ll in turn make money, and give back to the community. That’s half the battle. Show that your security is air tight and you’re abiding by all the red tape. You should be good to go.


So, to wrap it up… No doubt about it, going through this process will not be for the faint of heart. Also, prepare to be flexible. As with anything brand new, Illinois cannabis will go through some hurdles and fits and starts before we start to settle in on some solid processes. But in the meantime, go for it. If you do everything correctly, you should have an excellent shot at getting a license.