Applicants still waiting for equity in blooming cannabis industry

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Legal marijuana is now a billion dollar industry in Illinois, but Black and Latinx entrepreneurs are mostly on the outside looking in.

“It’s daunting. It hurts,” said Connie Anderson.

Anderson and Clifton Muhammad have led competitive robotics teams with CPS students, they ran a music business program out of their South Chicago record shop and the couple wants to open

Cannabliss Chicago partnering with Washington D.C. cannabis entrepreneur, Norbert Pickett.

“With the current cannabis licensing process to be honest with you, the social equity part of that has meant little or no difference in terms of who is winning these licenses,” Muhammad said.

Following outrage and lawsuits, Gov. Pritzker put the licensing process on hold.  State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D – 8th) wants a legislative fix on the governor’s desk by the end of the month.

“What we have to do now is everything we can to cut the losses and move people into this industry,” said Ford.

Gary Little, founder of ColaGroup, moved into the industry partnering with Nature’s Care, which is owned by multi-state operator Acreage. Little manages the West Loop dispensary that opened, last fall and the company entered into a first-of-its kind community benefits agreement.

“My future goal is to be a dispensary owner and take the model we’ve learned here hopefully in the Nature’s Care footprint and broadcast it across the state,” said Little. “So what this looks like is open a dispensary, show someone how to run it from the ground up to run the operations, hire  people from disproportionately impacted communities and give them the opportunities to change the community footprint.”

Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker’s senior adviser on cannabis control remains hopeful that Black and Brown communities will be able to benefit from every part of the expanding cannabis ecosystem.

“Until we have owners that look like Black and Brown people who were hurt the most by this, that’s when the narrative is going to change,” said Hutchinson. “We won’t stop till we get there.”

For now, social equity applicants are still waiting.

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