Social Equity Cannabis in Illinois

The Current State of Social Equity in Illinois with Chicago NORML

Illinois is the model for what social equity in cannabis should be, promising to issue the largest number of minority owned cannabis licenses in the country. Using this new industry to establish and enforce their promise for social equity. The reality has been everything but that. And yet, you wouldn’t know that from the news. Our governor and his office have already begun to celebrate it as a success. Boasting about a program that has left minorities in the dark. So what is the real problem? What are some regulatory fixes, and what can we do to really see some change?

Chicago NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is working tirelessly to change this. With very little information available about the laws and changing legislation, it’s important that we have these types of organizations educating cannabis consumers and advocates alike. I am very grateful to Chicago NORML and Edie Moore for the opportunity to read and share her viewpoint on the current state of Social Equity in Illinois. Please make sure you follow Chicago NORML and sign up for their email newsletter so that you can stay up to date with their meetings.

The legislature isn’t meeting until October, so who are you pushing for action?

Yes, these are existing issues, but the news is that neither the ILGA nor the Administration appears to be addressing any of them. That is why we are pushing again and educating leaders on the issues. It is always a continuous effort. Many of these businesses are hanging by a thread. The more time that goes by without work (legislative or regulatory fixes), the deeper the hole and the dimmer the dream becomes for them.

With the release of the new licenses, the State started touting the great success and the high percentage of Black and Latino teams who won them.  What they are NOT saying is that new policies have been proposed that, if passed, will decrease the probability of success for those teams.  They are NOT saying that none of the license holders (of any type) have received the promised DCEO loans and are struggling to pay expenses.

True, the legislature won’t officially meet until October, but it would be a serious mistake to wait until then.  We’ve been having meetings all Summer and have been met with apathy and shoulder shrugging.  We do not want a repeat of the last two legislative sessions where very little cannabis work was pushed.  Much of this work doesn’t even need to be done in Springfield.  The Departments have a great deal of authority. However, they need to start meeting with more than just the MSOs.  They are not social equity license holders, and they are NOT the only stakeholders anymore.

Why now? I understand these are important issues for you, but what urgency or event is there that makes it more important than it was in the past?

The statute puts a clock on the conditional dispensary licenses of only 6 months. Nearly 2 months of those have ticked away without addressing the concerns of the conditional dispensary businesses.  There aren’t even codified rules for them to follow. The department has been trying to enforce policy using FAQs and memos. In early August, Infusers were shocked by an unexpected memo from the Dept of Agriculture that, if codified, would lock them out of 80% of the market.  The Transporters have already been hit with a license renewal bill from the state even though none of them have been able to operate.  It’s urgent that we stop this uncertainty and release the DCEO funding now.

It’s important, now more than ever, to share what we know about social equity in Illinois. Are you a social equity license winner? Have you faced issues as a new cannabis venture? We need to be having and sharing these discussions. It’s absurd that we have to fight to not monopolize the entire industry, but more than that, we can do much better at providing support for these businesses. I am grateful for organizations like Chicago NORML for not only de-stigmatizing cannabis but also for fighting back against the complete lack of accountability happening in our state. 

I am hopeful and realistic about the future for social equity license holders in Illinois. But this is only the beginning. I think more people should be talking about what is happening here. The greatest frauds in history were successful, with little reporting. It’s happening right now in our very own state, and I’m just hoping to do my part. I think we all want to see better from the cannabis industry, and I’m happy to create and cultivate conversations that educate. Make sure you guys follow Chicago NORML and stay up to date on the ways we can help make a change.

This interview was originally conducted for 2022

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    […] Right now is the time for you to be on the right side of history. To join a movement that is as grassroots as it comes. To better an industry that shouldn’t have gone down the toilet this quickly. We deserve better than Cresco weed, we deserve better than Verano’s moldy weed. We deserve better than dispensaries that are overpriced Starbucks. We deserve an industry that values quality in cannabis, social equity in cannabis, and freedom with cannabis. […]

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