CHICAGO (CBS) — Fifty-five new pot businesses are about to get the green light in Illinois with the state’s first lottery tomorrow for dispensary licenses.

Licenses that were delayed for more than a year and a half, even as the state raked in millions in taxes and fees on legalized marijuana.

READ MORE: From Hotels To Retailers, Staffing Shortage Crisis Persists In Chicago -- And It's Affecting Customers

CBS 2’s Tara Molina has been tracking this for us since the beginning.

Not one minority-owned business has opened up yet because of the delays, but that’s about to change.

It’s changing now. The first lottery Thursday will award the first 55 new licenses and the second lottery next week will award another 55, specifically for owners who will diversify the industry here.

“It was not easy,” said Kiana Hughes.

Hughes Elevated Education and represents Chicago NORML. She sat down with us in Park Forest hours before the first state lottery awarding cannabis dispensary licenses.

“At least now, you see a light at the end of the tunnel because it was complete darkness before.”

As an applicant and advocate, she’s been waiting more than a year and a half for the license lottery, with major delays at the state level.

She’s just like everyone else trying to break into the cannabis industry for the first time since weed was legalized here.

Up until now, those already established in the industry have continued to cash in on record breaking pot sales without any new competition, since medical marijuana companies got the first go at recreational weed.

“Having these lotteries is definitely going to be life changing for some people.”

The state will distribute 185 licenses for adult-use cannabis dispensaries through the lotteries.

Including the new licenses meant to open the door for social equity applicants; minority owners.

READ MORE: Labor Shortage Blamed For Lack Of Headstone On Woman's Grave 8 Months After Her Death

According to state officials, there were more than 900 unique applicants for these licenses. At least 626 of them are qualified for the lottery and 589 are social equity, minority applicants.

The first lottery, Thursday, will award 55 licenses. The second lottery, next week, will award another 55 licenses specifically for social equity applicants.
And the final lottery will award 75 licenses to top scoring applicants.

“We’re going to see a lot more diversity. A lot more color. A lot more variation.”

And even with 626 qualified applicants vying for 185 licenses, Kiana is still hopeful.
With this step forward.

“This is just the beginning,” Hughes said.

These lotteries are being run by the Illinois State Lottery and it’s a totally blind process, with the draws automated through a computer program.

They are not publicizing Thursday’s lottery in any way, not on tv or online.

CBS 2 was told we should know who the first winners are by this time Thursday, so we will bring you the latest then.

RELATED: Pritzker Signs Law To Get Ball Rolling After Delays In Licenses For Minority Marijuana Entrepreneurs

Hughes says the hundreds of applicants awaiting licenses will be happy the time has finally come for them.

“They are really going to be able to see the fruits of their labor and their financial, and emotional and time investment start to pay off.”

She added “only thing we are going to see in 2021 is these licenses being awarded.”

 

MORE NEWS: City Leaders Hope New Campaign Will Boost Vaccination Rate, But Health Professionals Say It Will Take Time

 

Tara Molina