According to a 2017 survey by Marijuana Moment, just 19% of those who launched a cannabis business and/or have an ownership stake in a cannabis company are racial minorities.The need for social equity within the cannabis industry is pressing. Hard.
And while many states have been pushing to increase their programs to right some of the wrongs done by the War on Drugs, equity efforts in Illinois have made it clear this is not a one-size-fits-all type of deal.
Equity in Illinois
Illinois has been laying out efforts to increase social equity in its cannabis market since legalizing recreational consumption in January 2020.
Social equity provisions would include three main components:
- Applicants must originate from an under-resourced community or an area impacted by the War on Drugs.
- Applicants or a family member of each applicant must have been directly impacted by anti-cannabis police enforcement.
- Applicants must hire 51% of employees from neighborhoods negatively affected by the War on Drugs.
As the program begins to roll out, however, many advocates and potential equity applicants, are raising concern over the lack of licensing available to minority owners.
Originally, 75 new licenses were said to be awarded simultaneously. Currently, of the 700 applicants, only 21 companies have been chosen. The final licenses will be issued through a lottery system later this month.
With the lottery licensing system causing confusion, and no real information being shared on how these finalists are chosen, applicants such as Indrani Peyton are raising concern and asking for clarification.
“We just want the playing field to be fair, that’s all we wanted,” Peyton said to ABC 7. “And based on how the outcome was – even part of the process – it was not, in fact, fair.”
Help From High Places
Democratic lawmakers La Shawn Ford and Kathleen Willis have also outlined plans to “make sure that true social equity is achieved.”
According to Chicago Sun Times, Ford and Willis took to a Zoom with equity applications to introduce a “trailer bill” reflecting the concerns of hopeful cannabis storefront owners.
“We were anticipating some really great results that we could hold up for the rest of the nation to see Illinois did something right,” Willis stated. “And unfortunately, we didn’t see that.”
The pair also took it upon themselves to write a joint letter to Gov. Pritzker, which identified a list of concerns regarding the selection process.
Regardless of their recommendations to halt the lottery program until the public has more information on how the finalists were chosen, Pritzker says that is not allowed under the current state laws governing the program.
The governor did, however, say he will support necessary changes in the next round of licensing.
“The social equity focus of the cannabis industry, and how it was created, this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” he told Illinois Delivered.
“We’ve said that all along. We’ve had to focus on making sure that at each step the diversity that we all want – the diversity, the equity, the inclusion that we all want from this industry – is, in fact, brought to bear.”
Written by Rita Thompson