Cook County judge says ‘it’s very possible’ pot shop licensing process will have to be ‘redone’

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The first batch of customers make their purchases at Rise Joliet.
A ruling by a Cook County judge on Monday could throw the pot shop licensing process into disarray. | Sun-Times file

“Everybody then would be subject to just another application process or another lottery, who knows what,” said Judge Moshe Jacobius, who has already held up the formal issuance of the next round of lucrative dispensary permits.

A Cook County judge on Monday conceded that an ongoing lawsuit he’s presiding over could potentially upend the state’s troubled cannabis licensing rollout and lead to a complete do-over.

During a lengthy hearing, Judge Moshe Jacobius issued an order granting WAH Group LLC a place in Thursday’s third and final lottery for dispensary licenses. But as Jacobius ruled the group was unjustly excluded from the drawing, he acknowledged the underlying suit could have serious implications for the state’s lucrative cannabis industry.

“We can’t predict the future. And counsel says that if you ultimately rule that the whole structure was improper, then the whole thing will have to be redone over again,” he said of the licensing process. “That may very well be, but I can’t anticipate what’s going to happen.

“And that’s just the most extreme thing that can happen. It might happen,” he added. “It’s very possible. But then, everybody then would be subject to just another application process or another lottery, who knows what.”

Last September, WAH Group and another firm, HAAAYY LLC, sued the state and the global accounting firm charged with grading applications, claiming the scoring was unfair because it awarded bonus points to veteran-led applicants. WAH Group has a veteran partner but only made that clear during a supplementary scoring period, after applicants learned those points were necessary to notch the perfect score needed to qualify for Thursday’s long-delayed lottery.

Jacobius insisted the veterans’ points weren’t “optional,” as the legalization law suggests, but mandatory, a point Deputy Attorney General Doug Rees contested. Mazie Harris, the WAH Group’s attorney, later said Jacobius’ decision to allow the firm into the lottery was “well reasoned and grounded in the law.”

“Transparency has been an issue from the outset, and it is our expectation that the [Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation], being an administrative body, will comply with the law,” Harris said of the agency issuing the licenses.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office didn’t respond when asked whether it would appeal.

In recent weeks, Jacobius has allowed the state to hold the lotteries and publish the winners, but he’s held up the issuing of the actual licenses. Now, the permits won’t be issued before another hearing on Sept. 1.

An amended complaint filed last week added yet another layer to the complicated suit. Among other things, the filing holds that WAH Group was only given one of the two spots it earned in the first lottery — a fact Assistant Attorney General Richard Huszagh conceded during Monday’s hearing.

Applicants excluded from a lottery due to a “clerical error,” Huszagh later said, will go through a process to determine if they “would have won,” which Jacobius referred to as a “simulated lottery.”

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August 16, 2021 at 07:23PM

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