WASHINGTON PARK — A South Side activist aims to open a Washington Park shop where people who served prison time for drug crimes would legally sell CBD and hemp-derived products.
Support Your Local Weedman, a concept created by Tyrone Muhammad, would take over a storefront formerly occupied by Endure Hair Salon, 124 E. 51st St. Muhammad is partnering with tech entrepreneur and University of Chicago alum Charles Wu on the venture, hoping to teach formerly incarcerated people the business and agricultural sides of hemp and CBD production.
Muhammad is the founder of Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, a violence prevention nonprofit. It started in 2017 and has helped more than 250 formerly incarcerated people find work, Muhammad said.
The group’s first cohort of trainees recently graduated from the Rules to Success program, a collaboration between the nonprofit and Olive-Harvey College where students receive a hands-on education by working in the new on-campus greenhouse.
Muhammad and Wu unveiled their plans at a recent virtual town hall hosted by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd). Dowell appeared neutral on the proposal as neighbors questioned Wu and Muhammad about business hours and other plans.
The store would sell hemp-derived products produced by graduates, who will also have the opportunity to explore the marketing and sales side of the business, Wu said. Vape pens, edibles, CBD-infused items and those containing Delta-8 THC — a milder version of THC — would be available for sale, allowing them to bypass the need for licensing, said Wu, adding that lawsuits challenging the state’s cannabis licensing system have bogged down the process.
In addition to staffing the shop, formerly incarcerated individuals would grow hemp to be sold at the shop at a site in suburban Bridgeview, Muhammad said.
“We want to use this as a real way to help those affected [by unfair drug laws] to put their skills to work in a productive matter instead of an illegal one,” Wu said.
On the opposite side of the retail space will be a permanent multimedia exhibit highlighting the history of racist drug laws and Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change members who have been affected, like Muhammad himself. The activist, who served 20 years in prison before starting the organization, told CBS Chicago in a July 2021 interview he’d been arrested “a number of times in his youth” for marijuana-related offenses.
Part of the shop also will highlight stories of reentry and the barriers people encounter when trying to rejoin society. Visitors will be able to sit in a 9-foot-by-12-foot cell to experience what jail is like, the owners said.
The shop would be open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and products wouldn’t be allowed to be consumed on site, Wu said.
Support Your Local Weedman is the latest effort to diversify the local cannabis industry. Olive Harvey College in Pullman also is working with organizations similar to Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change to create a pipeline for Black and Brown residents who have been shut out of opportunities in legalized weed because of past marijuana convictions.
Participants in the Still I Rise program get free tuition, a $1,000 monthly stipend, academic support and help with child care, transportation and case management, funded by cannabis tax revenues.
The school developed the cannabis studies certification when recreational weed was legalized statewide in 2019. It’s on track to have an accredited associate’s degree in cannabis studies by spring 2023.
It is unclear whether the store will need City Council approval.
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