The Responsibility of Chicago’s Dispensaries: Introduction

There are currently 17 dispensaries scattered throughout the city of Chicago. None of them are minority owned. Since its legalization, marihuana has quickly become a hot topic among minority groups. In a city that is only 50% white, how is it possible that 100% of our dispensaries are white owned? It doesn’t take a “woke” individual to realize that there is something very wrong with our system. As a cannabis consumer, it’s infuriating to think that I not only expect no representation in this industry, but that I will be shamed for even bringing it up. As a minority, legalization meant removing the veil of criminalization that is only associated with people of color. It’s sad that in our own city, we are expected to accept the massive inequalities going on in the cannabis industry. 

There are currently 17 dispensaries scattered through out the City of Chicago. None of them are minority owned.

-Yesenia Roman

I was 29 when marihuana was legalized. It was a happy moment ruined by a break up, yet there was so much to look forward to. Chicago had legalized marihuana for all of 3 months before we had to go into quarantine. It was during these months that I attended The Electric Cafe hosted by Johnys Infuzed, my first ever marihuana vendor event. We were so hopeful, such high expectations, so many dreams. Regular drug dealers felt like they had a second chance at becoming legit. Smoke shops started popping up with the long term goal of becoming dispensaries. We really thought our state’s government was going to do right by its people, opening up licensing applications and hosting workshops.

Boy were we wrong. With the first round of approved licenses, we realized just how little our state’s government really gives a fuck about us. Political connections, corporate buyouts, and just white, white, white people, running a whole industry that they never even claimed. An industry that a whole generation of black and brown men served time for. It was a disappointing moment, and collectively infuriating. Despite the high usage in minority communities, only 2 dispensaries are in minority dominated communities. Despite the high number of qualified minority candidates who have applied, only rich white men currently hold marihuana licenses. We are witnessing inequality in its most dangerous form. 

Political connections, corporate buyouts, and just white, white, white people running a whole industry they never even claimed.

-Yesenia Roman

The first thing I notice when entering any dispensary is their staff. If I don’t immediately see a brown or black face, I can guarantee I won’t be spending a single dollar there. We may not be able to expect more from our Government, but I speak with my money and I refuse to spend it somewhere that doesn’t have a diverse staff. I also don’t agree with this notion that only dispensaries in a certain area should hire people of color. Chicago is roughly 50% minorities. So any dispensary located in the City of Chicago should be staffed diversely. This isn’t Naperville, our city is very clearly diverse. You can’t walk down a single block downtown without seeing a person of color. 

I was 30 years old the first time I bought weed from a white person. My whole life, the drug dealers who I frequented were regular guys from my hood. The kinda guys who rode around listening to rap, and selling weed. Despite their intimidating appearance, these are the type of guys I’m comfortable buying weed from. No matter how friendly the staff at my preferred dispensary are, I don’t trust them the same. I am not used to ordering my weed the way I order my coffee while a smiling blonde tells me about their current deals. Every time I buy weed from a dispensary, I feel a little bit of shame. Shame to be supporting a system that doesn’t even want me. 

I am not used to ordering my weed the way I order my coffee, while a smiling blonde tells me about their current deals.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hopeful for the future. A future where licenses are approved for minority businesses. Where our city produces minority leaders in the cannabis industry. We have to continue to hold these dispensaries accountable for the companies they are selling for and for their hiring practices. Make sure that these money making dispensaries are giving the same chance to young people of color as they are to young white people. As part of the 50% of POC who shop at dispensaries, it makes me feel weird to walk into a dispensary that looks like Starbucks to buy my Jack Herer. I encourage everyone to support organizations like Chicago Norml and local people of color involved in the industry. Let’s show these Cannabis Corporations that we not only wish for representation, we demand it.

Follow me on Instagram! @mexandthecitychi

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