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Cannabis dispensary hopefuls say state's licensing program is unconstitutional

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By Scott Holland | Dec 4, 2019

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CHICAGO — Three health care providers have filed a lawsuit alleging the state of Illinois’ medical marijuana licensing program is unconstitutional.

Brothella Quick, a nurse and former second lieutenant in the U.S. Public Health Service, said she completed a lengthy application for a cannabis dispensary with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations in 2014 on behalf of her business, BQ Enterprises, as did nurse anesthetists Crystal Anderson and Maria Davis. Anderson and Davis had cofounded Crystal Clear Compassionate Care. Neither business qualified for cannabis dispensary registrations in their chosen districts.

According to the amended complaint, filed Dec. 2 in federal court in Chicago, more than 200 companies applied for 60 available dispensary licenses. Although businesses like Crystal Clear and BQ Enterprises had owners who were nonwhite, women or first-generation immigrants, the IDFPR “almost exclusively selected companies that had white men as the majority owners.”

Some companies, the complaint alleged, changed their dispensary address after the application deadline, but before registering, even through the location was a factor in the application scoring process. In district 48, The Herbal Care Center applied for a dispensary at a property that didn’t meet the state law’s zoning requirements. But after the applications were graded, the complaint alleges The Herbal Care Center identified a new property and beat out Crystal Clear for the license.

The businesses said they each “identified qualified property in a district with an available license” and submitted a written request for the IDFPR to change the address on their applications, a request denied in writing on Nov. 6 despite earlier granting similar changes for other companies.

The complaint further said the IDFPR deprived the companies of due process by not allowing them, as qualified applicants, to open a dispensary in one of the five districts where no other business applied. In rejecting the requested address changes, the department appeared to cite a 2014 rule for existing dispensaries attempting to relocate, even though the rule had been amended in 2018 after companies like The Herbal Care Center were allowed to switch locations, according to the complaint.

“Nothing in the rule forbids the change (Crystal Clear) and BQ requested as an original applicant that has yet to receive an authorization to register,” according to the complaint, “just as nothing in the 2014, pre-amended, version of the rule forbade IDFPR to allow address changes by original applicants that had not yet registered.”

That other companies sought to change locations within a district, the complaint continued, is “legally insufficient” ground for denying the BQ and Crystal Clear requests “and in fact contradicts the express requirements” of the medical marijuana law. The complaint said at least two applicants changed their districts after the application deadline. The companies further said the agency itself chose to divide the state into 60 districts, a process that interferes with the law’s dictum to issue 60 dispensary licenses.

The companies want a judge to review the IDFPR’s denial of their address change requests and asked the agency to respond to their complaint with the administrative record of the proceedings resulting in the denial of their requests. They also seek a jury trial, compensatory damages and an injunction barring the IDFPR or Brett Bender, the state agency's deputy director of medical marijuana, from awarding a dispensary in district 23 or 28 to any other company.

The companies are represented in the matter by the firm of Loevy and Loevy, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Loevy & LoevyU.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisIllinois Department of Financial and Professional Regualtion