Minority-owned businesses push for Illinois cannabis equity

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More than a year into the legal recreational marijuana industry in Illinois, a glaring omission remains among minority-owned businesses.

When Governor Pritzker and Springfield legislators pushed for recreational use of cannabis, they said they were doing so with an eye towards equity.  Dispensaries opened statewide on Jan. 1, 2020. Yet, 15 months later, no minority-owned cannabis businesses operate in the state.

Illinois’ cannabis business accounted for $1 billion in sales in its first year of legality. However, social equity remains a work in progress.

“You can’t say you’re about equity and leaving those women and men out in these communities outside looking in,” Tyrone Muhammad said at a press conference Tuesday committed to increasing and expanding Black and Brown ownership in the cannabis space.

With the state running almost a year behind issuing new licenses, minority investors and activists have turned up the heat on the Pritzker administration.

“We joined forces with each other and with the advocacy community to ensure that others that have rightfully earned their seat at the table can get their piece of the pie and eat,” Kiana Hughes, who represents The Six, a group of six Black and Brown owned businesses.

“As The Six, it’s not enough for us to be in a position and have an opportunity to eat,” Hughes said. “We want everybody to be able to each.”

In 2019, lawmakers passed the cannabis law to help communities impacted by the war on drugs.

The state planned to issue 75 licenses before May of last year. But the Pritzker administration delayed the process, citing the pandemic. Last September, 21 social equity applicants were added to the lottery for the 75 licenses. After various groups complained, the state provided entrepreneurs with a second chance. Hopeful minority owners revised their applications.  Now, state officials are reviewing the paperwork and more social equity applicants may be added to the lottery.

Amidst the wait, several cannabis clean-up bills are moving in Springfield. State Representative LaShawn Ford is planning legislation that would allow for more licenses.

“The truth is, the only way you can fix a problem is to recognize that there is a problem, admit there’s a problem and begin to work on it,” Ford said.

The various stakeholders continue to wait for the state lottery to issue more licenses. But some activists say they won’t move forward until more minorities become part of the process. 

In a statement to WGN News, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pritzker says, “The Pritzker administration remains committed to issuing licenses and developing an adult-use cannabis industry in a fair, equitable manner.”

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