WEST LOOP — Nature’s Care Company, an Illinois dispensary owned by cannabis giant Acreage Holdings, has signed a community benefits agreement with the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition that will commit the company to stricter hiring standards and community outreach than what state law requires.
The coalition, a collection of activists and community groups, has called on neighborhood associations, aldermen and city officials to withhold their support of any new dispensary unless it signed on to the CBA.
Nature’s Care Company holds one conditional license to open a dispensary in Chicago, and the agreement is tied to wherever the company opens with that license.
The company has an application with the city for 810 W. Randolph St. in the West Loop. The agreement might give the dispensary a way to stand out among the crowd of companies looking to open pot shops in Chicago.
Currently, the only companies permitted to open dispensaries in Chicago are those that were a part of the state’s medical cannabis program, and they are all owned primarily by white men.
Coalition President Doug Kelly praised Nature’s Care Company for being the first to sign on to a CBA with his group.
“This is a milestone moment for racial justice in the story of Illinois’ cannabis legalization,” he said.
The CBA, described as a “legally enforceable agreement,” commits the company to:
- Provide 100 percent living wage jobs for disproportionately impacted individuals
- Hire 75 percent of employees from disproportionately impacted areas within two years
- Donate 10 percent of net profits of the dispensary to community organizations working in disproportionately impacted areas
- Contract 10 percent of products and services from minority and social equity businesses
- Create a training and career development program for employees
- Host “know your rights” educational events and participate in National Expungement Week
On Friday, the two parties will hold a press conference touting the agreement before the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.
Akele Parnell, an attorney with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights who is advising the coalition, said while the state law has provisions to create social equity in the industry, those provisions are primarily aimed at ownership, not employees; are created through tax revenue; and are not immediate or proven.
Applications for the next batch of 75 statewide dispensary licenses will be prioritized if they are owned primarily by social equity applicants or if the company has 10 or more employees and hires at least 51 percent of them from communities most impacted by the War on Drugs. But those licenses won’t be awarded until May 1, and the dispensaries that get them are unlikely to open until January.
“The living wage requirement and the employment and hiring requirements are the two things that are most distinct from what the state law requires,” Parnell said.
“Nobody knows if the state law will actually create the amount of equity that it’s designed to. … We need a way to ensure that folks from disproportionately impacted areas are able to benefit from legalization economically now.”
The agreement “shows that this sort of equity framework is doable,” Parnell said. “I think it also puts some pressure on the other operators to … sign their own CBAs and fall in line.”
Charles Amadin, general manager of Nature’s Care, said the company worked with the coalition for a few weeks on the details of the agreement.
“We wanted to go ahead and sign this because we truly care and [we’re] not just wanting to pay lip service to social equity,” Amadin said.
Amadin said the company already provides a living wage above the standard definition in Illinois — $16 per hour instead of $13.50 — at its dispensary in suburban Rolling Meadows.
Parnell said the company and coalition agreed to a set starting wage and there will be “significant” yearly raises. Parnell and Amadin said the agreement would initially be in effect for “a few” years, but they did not specify the exact length.
There will be regular progress reports, and the dispensary could face financial penalties if the it fails to uphold the agreement, Parnell said.
“They’ll provide all the necessary information to track progress … along all the terms of the agreement,” he said.
The agreement also comes with a perk for Nature’s Care Company: The coalition committed to express its support for the company at Friday’s zoning hearing and any other steps along the way.
Parnell said the companies most benefited from the way legalization was rolled out should be asked to do more for those most impacted by the War on Drugs.
“The law gives them a pretty significant and lucrative head start on making tons of money in the first days of legalization,” he said. “… And that’s just an opportunity that folks, you know, Black and Brown folks like myself, won’t get, so something needed to be done. So this does begin to address that issue to make the industry a little bit more equitable now, as opposed to later.”
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