In guidance issued last month, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said that secondary site licenses will only be issued after a new store has passed a final state inspection, essentially setting up a first-come, first-served system.
Marijuana companies say this could create a system where businesses pour capital into a new retail store only to be beaten out by another business down the street or around the corner.
"Then you have to find a new site and you did all that work," said Chris Stone, senior policy adviser and co-owner of Ascend Illinois, which operates medical dispensaries in Springfield and Collinsville. "One of the problems is you're not going to know about who's next to you until everybody files their secondary license."
The state acknowledged the possibility of such conflicts in a memo last month and advised companies to keep an eye on the competition by methods that include filing open records requests with local zoning boards.
For downstate dispensaries, like Thrive's locations in Anna and Harrisburg, the requirement to open second shops in the same area as the first shops is also problematic, said the company's CEO, Naumovski.
The population of the area is sparse enough that opening more dispensaries there could cannibalize business from Thrive's existing shops, he said. Naumovski has one new location picked out, but plans to wait on the other. He wants clarity from the state before proceeding.
Mitchell contends the law includes all of the specifics necessary, including details on the license application process, for existing dispensaries to prepare for Jan. 1 recreational sales.
"We deliberately made a choice to write the requirements for that application right into the bill so that we would avoid the rulemaking process and be able to go straight to market," Mitchell said.
He acknowledged that additional regulations will be rolled out as the industry expands. The Department of Agriculture, for example, still has to create rules for new licenses for smaller growers and companies that will make pot-infused products, but because those licenses won't be awarded until next summer, there's still plenty of time, Mitchell said.
Despite Mitchell's optimism, there is plenty of history to support skepticism over the ready availability of recreational pot on New Year's Day.