Almost 3 years since cannabis became legal in Illinois, and we still do not have a single minority owned dispensary running. That means, it is still illegal to buy weed from a Black or brown business here in our state. In Illinois, a state that has regularly been painted as a blueprint for social equity in cannabis.
Well not only is it not the blueprint, it’s actually been quite the embarrassment. Hiccup after hiccup followed an already flawed roll out. One that awarded 76 licenses to political friends and supporters. Yes, I’ll say it. Only those who are “in” with our state government are able to prosper in cannabis. Something that is morally wrong, and a damn shame.
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Why Cannabis Became Illegal in the First Place
Let’s start with a little history about Cannabis. Specifically here in Chicago as we have a unique experience with it. First off, cannabis didn’t become a problem until it was considered a foreign threat. One that President Roosevelt felt like he could cash in on by regulating.
With the Marihuana Tax Act, the president was able to regulate the scary marihuana that the Mexicans were spreading. Little is known about this time, but this Chicago Tribune Article is the first article in Chicago history where marihuana is not only associated with Mexicans, but also talked about so negatively.
The History of Cannabis in Chicago
Although mostly considered a Southern and Western problem, here in Chicago, Mexicans were the original growers of cannabis. And by the 1930’s, local musicians and creatives had taken it up. That’s how it even made it into the newspaper to begin with, because it started catching on in the more nightlife.
In fact, anybody who was caught with Marihuana was blasted on local newspapers here in Chicago, most of them being Mexican. Keep in mind, this was all happening in the 20’s and 30’s, before it ever became federally criminalized.
Fast forward to June of 1971 and we have President Nixon declaring a War on Drugs. A war that admittedly targeted African Americans and “hippies”. Hoping that this new effort would allow police to target and police these individuals heavily, and without any repercussions. This was all admitted by a top Nixon aide in the 90’s.
Since then, the criminalization of marihuana has been used to unjustly target and incarcerate people of color. Staggering numbers of those arrested every year for marihuana offenses showed a very flawed system. A racist one at that.
Policing and Cannabis
The police have been abusing communities of color for decades. Stories of police officers planting drugs and using marihuana smell as a way to not only stop men of color, but also arrest them and charge them. All while gears were in play to decriminalize the plant altogether.
With a long history of brutality in areas of color, marihuana was just another scapegoat for racist police officers. In fact, white youth have historically not faced such harsh punishment for the same petty marihuana crimes. Meaning, white boys in the suburbs get away with selling small amounts of weed way more often than Black or brown boys in the city.
The Financial Potential of Cannabis
California became the first state to legalize marihuana, a move that would show other states the potential for cannabis. And what a potential it had, blossoming into a billion dollar industry before our eyes. And while countless men of color sat behind bars for this same occupation, we watched the industry get taken over by men who had never sold a dime bag in their life.
True, cannabis is a business and as such would be spearheaded by those who know about capital and funding and scaling. Yet, what type of regulations should be in place when an industry is created after being targeted by laws? Is it morally ok to allow the rich to step in and profit off of a product that so many impoverished people were incarcerated for?
The Moral Problem with Corporations Selling Cannabis
The answer is no. It’s not morally ok. Since the legalization of cannabis in Illinois, we have seen the lengths that some of these millionaires would go to erase all mention of inequalities. Sure, they know business, but what do they really know about the plant? The quality that we’ve grown to expect? And the pricing that would compete with the streets?
Here in Illinois, Governor Pritzker made it a campaign highlight that he would legalize cannabis for the benefit of the communities targeted by the war on drugs. So he said, but as of today we are still not seeing the resources and opportunities promised. So what did Governor Pritzker promise and what is he actually falling short on?
Governor Pritzker’s Promises
Everyone is essentially pissed by the false promises made by Governor Pritzker. In fact, websites like these highlight so many of his shortcomings.
One of the main promises that Governor Pritzker made was to create a socially equitable business market for the cannabis industry. Yet 76% of licenses went to just 6 political insiders. Meaning that he fell short almost immediately. We are now seeing a market that is dominated by corporations like GTI, who bought their large portion of the market share.
The reality is that Governor Pritzker used these promises to guarantee himself the minority vote. Because in Illinois, despite there not being a single minority owned cannabis corporation, our minority population makes up almost 50% of the state. A number so staggering that it doesn’t even make sense.
Let’s be clear: if any government funding goes out, it should go to the countless men and women who suffered from marihuana convictions. This is a fact. Sure, the “pay to play” model works in every industry. But not every industry was created off of the backs of minorities. Especially in our state, where the population of African Americans is less than 18% yet they make up 56% of people in prison.
It is a clear and implicit fraud that is happening right under our noses. One that cannot and should not be swept under the rug. So many of my own personal friends and family have been affected and wrongfully targeted simply for marihuana. Where are the consequences when it’s our own government who gets it wrong?
Current State of Cannabis in Illinois
Organizations are calling for the state to provide resources and funds so that these social equity licenses can begin operating. We are in a state of emergency as time is running out for these people to have access to funding. So many of these social equity licenses will be sold off simply because operating has proven to be near impossible.
Here are some major bullet points that we need to know about:
- We want the state to set up craft growers for success. Currently, craft growers are restricted to a growing space that is only 5k sq ft. This proves to be financially unsustainable, and the state should increase that limit to 14,000.
- Transporter licenses are the easiest to issue. With that comes the huge influx of transportation licenses, many of them out numbering social equity transportation licenses. We want the state to stop issuing new transportation licenses until the current licensees can become operational.
- Speaking on transporter licenses, we want the state to delay the deadline for licensing fees, allowing more time for social equity licensees to acquire the needed funds
- We are demanding that the state creates a system for giving government contracts to social equity license winners. We want them to stop delaying their vehicle inspections, and register them on BioTrack.
- We also want current cultivators to contract with a transportation licensee for at least 75% of business
- Another big topic is dispensary locations and licenses. We want them to remove the 1st mover advantage and clearly stipulate the rules regarding distance between dispensaries
- We also want the state to release the funds from the DCEO loan program and CBD loan fund
How can you support Social Equity in Cannabis?
It feels extremely helpless sometimes when we see how easily they are removing people of color from the conversation. But don’t be dissuaded. We must push our local reps and legislatures to put pressure on the state. We need people in power who care about the legislation and who understands the impact on communities of color.
I urge all of my readers to come together. Together is the only way we can truly force the system to listen to us. This isn’t a Black OR brown issue, this is a Black AND brown issue. One that we must face head on. Together.
Please consider boycotting corporate cannabis until we are able to purchase cannabis from Black and brown companies. Together we can fight back with the only thing they care about, money. There are so many legacy operators you can support and give your dollars to. Instead of supporting the same fucked up corporations that have completely ruined the industry in such a short time.
I also urge you to stay educated and up to date with organizations that are leading the fight. Please consider signing up to my mailing list so that you can stay up to date on ways to get involved.
List of Organizations you can support
Please consider following and joining the following organizations:
- Chicago NORML
- Canna Equity IL Coalition
- True Social Equity in Cannabis
Please also support all the Black and brown license holders that are still in limbo. Share their work, support in any way you can. It’s imperative that we come together as a unit so that this historical fraud can be stopped.
How to hold your local dispensary responsible
If you must shop at a dispensary, here are some tips on what to look for:
- If your dispensary doesn’t employ POC to make up half of their team AT LEAST do not shop there
- If you walk into a dispensary and the only POC you see is a security guard, leave
- Do not support any Sunnyside Dispensary, just don’t
- Ask budtenders of color how they feel about the dispensary they work for. Ask them how they feel about their pay, about management, about the company culture.
- Email your local dispensary and ask them what their efforts are to the local community of color
The most important part is holding these corporations responsible for their “Support of social equity”. In order for these corporations to support Social Equity in cannabis, they need to be hiring POC for high level positions. They need to be paying POC equally for their contributions. They need to pay influencers and creators of color for any work. They need to donate to local organizations in communities of color. They need to be active in these community events. They need to be generous with sponsorships of organizations of color. We don’t need exposure, we need employment, access to capital, and a level playing field.
We are experiencing a huge fraud in American history, and it’s happening right in our state. Decades from now, people will look back on Governor Pritzkers social equity in cannabis promises as a scam. A red flag that we should’ve all foretold. He will go down as a fraud and a scammer.
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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