“It was never about trying to keep the whole pie.”
It’s not something you usually hear from a President of a cannabis corporation. But it’s exactly what Ambrose Jackson, President and CEO of Helios Labs and Parkway Dispensary, said to me. I had the opportunity to talk to him and co-founder Ray Martinez about their new venture and about their view on cannabis licensing in Illinois.
“When you talk about what social equity means, the definition that they came up with is BS. It means nothing.” says Ambrose. Not only is he well versed in cannabis, he’s also connected to current laws, and painstakingly self aware. Make no mistake, Ambrose is regularly featured in publications such as the Tribune, Crain’s Business. He speaks candidly about social equity and the licensing process, and is adamant about the support needed for other minority applicants like himself. He’s also a great leader, according to Ray.
“You’ve heard all the different ways that black and brown people are discriminated against in our society. When you get a license, that doesn’t go away” says Ambrose, it’s a harsh reality and one that Helios Labs and Parkway Dispensary are ready to face head on.
“I couldn’t have done it by myself. Having a great team and a great leader is important. I applaud Ambrose for taking over. He’s the leader of the group.” says Ray. Ambrose chimes in, “We did it differently in terms of building that team. To go at it ourselves. For a lot of folks, they are just the one person or 2 people, or they bring in one social equity applicant. If they just want to win a license. I could be one person and I’ll have an outside, multi-state operator, or a company from a different state. They’re going to come in and they’re going to fill out the application for me. If you have money you could just pay a consultant. Or keep all the social equity to yourself.”
I guess that’s the problem with our social equity process, they thought it would set the standard. While other states look to Illinois for advice and guidance, there are still zero social equity licenses being actually operating. “It’s one of the reasons why this Illinois process was a complete failure.”
“We had out-of-state companies offering to write everything for us, offering to give us 49%. Once we made the decision that we were not going to go that route, we had to figure it out ourselves. We used resources online. There was a company named Green Rush (consulting) where you can purchase education at a reduced price. Even for a dispensary application, we were fortunate to be included in the incubator program led by Cresco Labs. At that point nobody knew about the process. They had a program to try to orient us, from a standard operating procedure aspect.”
The Cannabis License Application process is a tedious and difficult one. Despite the emphasis from our state that they would alleviate financial burden on social equity applicants, there are still many flaws that have caused applicants time and money.
“It was a field day for a lot of building owners who had buildings that fit the requirements that craft growers needed for the license. So craft growers were fighting over the same few buildings. Because of this supply and demand issue, building owners started taking advantage of craft grow applicants. They were asking for a significant amount of money to lock in the place during the application process, but they then began to take money from many social equity applicants. Submitting an application was complicated by the stipulation that you had to have a building.”
“Craft grow (licenses) was delayed a year from when it was supposed to be issued. So yes we won a license, but we started off in the hole for about half a million dollars. That’s because of the lease we had to sign in order to get the license, which they then delayed for a year. When we were looking for a building, a lot of them were dilapidated. And still, the building owners were asking for a lot of money. It was ridiculous. We were literally competing with million dollar out of state companies.”
Being a social equity license winner has been tedious and overwhelming. But weed isn’t boring, and there are definitely fun parts of this process. Out of their names, “Helios Labs” stands out. When I asked them about it, the pride in their face was evident, despite the funny backstory. Helios is the Sun God in Greek mythology. Sun is the absolute most vital part to growing cannabis, so it’s fitting. It’s important to remember that social equity applicants like Ambrose and Ray are chasing a dream, an industry that a few years ago brought shame, now brings a smile and a chuckle.
“It was pretty much John’s idea,” says Ray “Sun God? I asked him, then I looked it up and he’s a titan, and I liked it. It was pretty quick, coming up with that name”
“There’s a ton of random ass names, since it doesn’t matter what your LLC is.” says Ambrose in between laughs. It’s true, what seems like just a small detail, is actually a grand representation of what these independent applicants have to learn. They have to learn what multi-state corporations have hired lawyers and advisors to know. Things that Helios Labs co founders Ray Martinez and Ambrose Jackson had to learn through Google and Youtube.
Cannabis is a beautiful, wonderful, well loved plant by so many. ” We want to create a different environment. We want them to spend time there. We want them to have fun. To learn something. To interact with each other” That’s what Ray and Ambrose hope to make out of Parkway Dispensary. A place to not only buy cannabis, but to learn about it, create community around it. A place that appeals to black and brown cannabis consumers, that welcomes them. “Covid is ruining a lot of things but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t educate your consumer on what they’re purchasing. People still have questions, and they need answers. Walking into dispensaries, you’re rushed in and out. You’re expected to order online. ”
Helios Labs and Parkway Dispensary are just a couple of the names that have entered the cannabis space in Illinois. From speaking to them I am given hope. Hope that we have real people, people who are passionate about using cannabis as a means to heal neighborhoods, create wealth within our communities, and to broaden the representation within this industry. Obtaining a cannabis license is no easy feat, in fact, they are some of the most sought after licenses currently on the market. Left and right we are seeing current license holders selling off to multi state operators. That’s why it’s important that we support real social equity license winners like Helios Labs and Parkway Dispensary. Real black and brown cannabis consumers like their team.
Other Illinois Cannabis License winners include former State Senators and even one of the biggest dispensaries outside of Las Vegas.
So how do we support social equity applicants and license winners like Helios Labs and Parkway Dispensary? You talk about them. When they open, you show up and buy from them. Parkway Dispensary is set to open sometime in 2022 in Danville, Illinois. I want to personally invite all of my readers to follow Helios Labs and Parkway Dispensary on all of their social media. Make sure you like and comment on their posts and make sure you guys stay up to date. I will definitely update this post when they have a grand opening planned. I am so excited to visit them in the future and to not only buy from them but to watch them grow. The prospect of being able to shop from black and brown dispensaries is exciting, but even more so is being able to shop from real cannabis advocates like Ambrose and Ray.
“Support your local Weed guy. Until the social equity licenses are operating, stop supporting current dispensaries.”
Thank you to Ambrose Jackson and Ray Martinez for the amazing talk! Make sure to keep an eye out for the opening of Parkway Dispensary and make sure you guys smoke some of Helios Labs grow as soon as it’s available.