US (IL): "Social equity program near collapse,” say cannabis advocates

A group of cannabis advocates led by Chicago NORML demonstrated outside the offices of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation on September 7. The protesters criticized the state government’s handling of its social equity program, arguing that it’s failing to fulfill its promise to create minority business ownership in the adult-use cannabis market.

“For Governor Pritzker and Illinois legislators, our cannabis social equity program is on the verge of collapse,” said Ambrose Jackson, CEO of the 1937 Group, during the presser, as reported by ABC 7 Chicago. “And who’s being hurt? It’s us, the very people who this program was meant to help.”

Among the issues at hand, would-be dispensary owners are asking the state to allow them to sell equity in their businesses to investors to raise money. But the state won’t let them do this until their dispensaries are inspected—and owners are saying that the costs to reach that stage are too high without outside funding.

In 2019, Illinois became the first state to legalize cannabis through its legislature (rather than by popular vote, through a ballot initiative). Legal sales launched in January 2020. The legalization bill committed the state to creating “equity” in the industry by making it easier for disadvantaged applicants to obtain licenses. Among the eligibility criteria are living in a “disproportionately impacted area” that’s had high cannabis arrest rates or having suffered (either personally or through a family member) certain arrests or penalties for cannabis use.

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