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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

New Weed Law Will Bring More Black And Brown Entrepreneurs Into The Fold — And More Dispensaries To South And West Sides, Applicants Hope

Under the bill, passed by the state General Assembly over the weekend, 190 dispensary licenses will be awarded, with a focus on social equity applicants.

License applicant Jermell Chavis, a Black veteran, and business partner Jonah Wine hope to open a weed dispensary on Chicago's South or West sides.
Justin Laurence

CHICAGO — Lawmakers, activists and budding entrepreneurs celebrated on Wednesday the passage of a state bill meant to fix the lack of Black and Brown ownership in the cannabis industry.

Under the bill, passed by the state General Assembly over the weekend, 190 dispensary licenses will be awarded, with a focus on social equity applicants. That includes 75 dispensary licenses meant to be awarded in May 2020.

Of those licenses, 119 will be reserved for the Chicago-Elgin-Naperville region. The increase in licenses could bring more dispensaries to the city’s South and West sides, which have largely been overlooked by weed dispensaries that have opened.

Gov. JB Pritzker is expected to sign the bill into law.

“This essential legislation will accelerate our collective vision to make sure that the communities harmed most by the war on drugs can participate in the industry as it grows,” Pritzker said in a tweet after its passage.

West Siders celebrated the bill’s passage Wednesday at MacArthur’s, a Black-owned restaurant at 5412 W. Madison St. in Austin. The bill is a starting point to make weed ownership in Illinois more equitable, but more work needs to be done, leaders said.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, who championed the bill and was credited with forging a compromise among community groups and lawmakers, said the lawsuits, activism and protests that proceeded the bill “made it a better process for everyone.”

“They are making this process fulfill the intent of the initial law to make sure Black people and Brown people have a right and a place in this emerging economy,” he said.

Edie Moore, executive director of Chicago Norml and a member of a group that received a perfect score and will take part in the initial lottery, said the bill is a “catalyst” for independent Black and Brown weed entrepreneurs to create wealth in their communities.

“We’re the changing face of the industry, and I for one, cannot wait to to see what all those colors are going to look like,” she said.

Credit: Justin Laurence
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (center) speaks at MacArthur’s Wednesday in Austin.

3 Lotteries, 190 Dispensary Licenses

The licenses will be doled out in a series of lotteries the state will host.

Twenty-one groups that were awarded perfect scores last fall will be eligible for the first lottery, where 75 licenses will be given out. After the state announced those 21 winners, a wave of backlash and multiple lawsuits followed, claiming the state’s scoring process was flawed and riddled with errors. Two of the lawsuits are still pending.

Under a rescoring process, it’s possible more groups who receive a perfect score on their application could be eligible for the first lottery.

Groups that scored 85 percent or higher on the application will be eligible for the second lottery with 55 licenses.

A third lottery with 55 licenses will be reserved for groups that scored at least 85 percent, but it will exclude groups that obtained social equity status by employing at least 10 people from communities most hurt by the war on drugs, but may have not otherwise qualified for social equity status. Five dual-use dispensary licenses, for dispensaries selling both medical and recreational weed, will also be awarded then.

Dates for the lotteries have not been scheduled.

Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, himself is a dispensary applicant, said leaders will continue to fight to improve the industry for minority applicants. He called on Pritzker to hold the lotteries within 30 days so dispensaries can open by the fall.

Toi Hutchinson, a top cannabis advisor to Pritzker, said that is unlikely as the administration works out the “logistics.”

“It’s not an issue about whether you want to do a lottery; it’s about how to get it done between a lot of moving parts, including active litigation,” she said. 

Credit: Justin Laurence
Toi Hutchinson, a top cannabis advisor to Gov. JB Pritzker, speaks at MacArthur’s in Austin Wednesday.

‘It’s More Than Putting A Dispensary On That Corner’

Ford said Pritzker’s administration must be “diligent” in rescoring applications so groups will know if they qualify for the lotteries.

“These business people realize they are not guaranteed to be a dispensary owner, but what they want is a guarantee to be treated fairly and the opportunity to have a fair shot in this industry,” he said. 

License applicant Jermell Chavis, a Black veteran, and business partner Jonah Wine said they missed out on a perfect score because they were docked a point for flaws in their floor plan. Under the rescoring process, they hope to receive a perfect score and be eligible for the first lottery.

If they’re successful in landing a license, they plan to open a dispensary on Chicago’s South or West sides, potentially in North Lawndale, where Chavis is from.

“I’m trying to identify the communities that need the most help, the most revitalization,” Chavis said. “It’s more than just putting a dispensary on that corner, it’s about bringing the cleaners to that corner, a grocery store that has fresh produce to those corner.”

Current licensees, overwhelmingly male and white, don’t want to locate on the South and West sides “because they don’t understand the value in these neighborhoods,” Chavis said.

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