As New Illinois Cannabis Dispensary Licenses Are Issued, Focus Turns to Industry Equity

As New Illinois Cannabis Dispensary Licenses Are Issued, Focus Turns to Industry Equity
August 6, 2022, 5:30 pm

In late July, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a second round of conditional adult use cannabis dispensary licenses that brought the total number of issued licenses to 177.

The applicants, all of whom qualify as social equity applicants, have 180 days to obtain a physical storefront location and the full adult use dispensing organization license. According to the state, of the business selected for the licenses, 41% are majority Black owned, 7% are majority White owned, 4% are majority Latino owned and 38% did not disclose the owner’s race.

Pritzker administration officials say these licenses, along with efforts to expunge the records of anyone arrested or convicted of cannabis violations in Illinois, are steps toward making the fledgling cannabis industry a more equitable enterprise.

Illinois Dep. Gov. Christian Mitchell said that while the administration acknowledges it took some time to get there, they are pleased with the progress they have seen.

“We’ve reached a really exciting day,” Mitchell said. “41% of [licenses] going to African Americans and another percentage to Latinos and other folks of color, that instantly makes us the most diverse industry in the country…That’s a big deal. And when you add to that, more than half-million Illinoisans who have seen their records expunged, their convictions expunged, and can now start a new life with others, collateral consequences. It’s a really big day.”

Akele Parnell, CEO of Umi Farms and a board member of cannabis advocacy organization Chicago NORML, said as one of the social equity applicants beginning his own operation, he appreciates the work the state has done thus far – but there’s still more to be done.

“We need to continue to remove barriers to our viability, both on the cultivation side and the retail side,” Parnell said. “There’s still some pretty significant barriers to viability for us as craft growers … And that feeds over into the retail side because now we have 177 new social equity businesses that need product and they need a diversity of product that we need to get that in their hands … so we need to remove barriers for us to be successful. And we also need state funding more quickly.”

Similarly, on the expungement side, Brandon Williams, supervising attorney of criminal records at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, said while a great deal of progress has been made, he hopes to get the word out to more people about the free resources made available for expungement via New Leaf Illinois.

“There have been hundreds of thousands of cannabis convictions and arrests expunged already, but there’s still a long way to go. We believe there are over 700,000 cannabis arrest convictions within the state of Illinois, and we are still working to lower that number each and every day through the court system and through the automatic process,” Williams said. “People can get free assistance from an attorney getting their criminal records expunged and sealed in the state of Illinois. We’ve been trying hard for the last two and a half years to get the word out as much as possible, but we still haven’t seen the numbers that we anticipated in regards to people signing up to get this free assistance … I think the word still needs to get out more into the actual communities where the war on drugs impacted the most people, which obviously is in the Black and brown neighborhoods.”