Legislation Aims to Fix Stalled Fairness Efforts in Illinois Cannabis Industry | Chicago News

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Illinois since January 2020, and sales have skyrocketed.

March saw the state’s highest cannabis sales to date. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation reported sales topped $ 100 million (cannabis users in and out of state spent $ 109,149,355.98 on greenbacks for the drug. green leaf).

But people of color like Deborah Dillon continue to be excluded from the legal cannabis trade. Gov. JB Pritzker and supporters of the legalization law have vowed that Illinois will use decriminalization to usher in a new era of “social fairness,” reversing the harm caused primarily to people of color by the war on drugs.

“This whole debacle is benefiting the incumbents, the politically connected and the rich. There is no effort, no real effort for social equity. At all, ”Dillon said.

His name was on 11 of the more than 4,500 submitted to the state, each seeking 75 lucrative licenses for a cannabis dispensary.

The licenses were supposed to favor so-called “social equity” applicants from communities in distress or who had been affected by the war on drugs and were to have been granted in May 2020.

Twenty-one applicants got a perfect score and won a place in the lottery which will decide which entities are licensed and where. Dillon was not among them, although she said she was close.

And she might still have a chance.

The state has still not organized a lottery to distribute these 75 licenses. There are questions about the validity of the scoring process and frustrations that only “perfect” scores have changed. Only applicants with what Dillon called a “unicorn” – a controlling stake in a dispensary who is a veteran and who meets the criteria of social fairness – received full marks.

Rather than holding a lottery, contestants like Dillon were given the opportunity to correct “gaps” in the paperwork.

Dillon said after the many hours of sweat she put into the project, it was worth it, even though the process of changing the demand gaps is so difficult, she said it was “like picking fly excrement from a pepper ”.

Meanwhile, Illinois faces six lawsuits for the troubled process.

Pritzker’s Cannabis Control Advisor Toi Hutchinson acknowledges the “hiccups”.

“It was extremely difficult to try to dismantle what is so incredible, for lack of a better term, built into the system. But I believe when all of that is done, we’ll have the most diverse property in the country, ”Hutchinson said. “We just have to get through the hardships of putting it all in place, litigating, passing laws, correcting and fine-tuning and making sure that we celebrate the fact that here, in Illinois, we’re not arguing over whether to do it, we’re discussing what more we can do and how we need to fix it. “

Yet a legislative solution has so far proved elusive, despite two previous attempts.

Now LaShawn Ford Representative D-Chicago has a new proposal, House bill 1443, which aims to advance in the licensing of social equity pot.

Ford’s plan would allow existing applicants, like Dillon, to participate in a second lottery that would lead to the award of 110 additional licenses on top of the 75 currently in limbo. The plan also aims to correct the need for a perfect score, instead using a “cut-off score” procedure that would allow any application receiving 85% of the total points to proceed to the lottery stage.

“We are going to make sure that the people who should participate in this lottery have a real opportunity. And who are these people? The people hardest hit by the war on drugs, for whom the law was intended. And so I think we’re in good shape to make sure that this monopoly on the cannabis industry ends in Illinois, and it will be diversified due to the legislation we pass ahead, ”Ford said.

Hutchinson said the Pritzker administration had been involved in months of negotiations and never shied away from its goals of rectifying injustices against people of color and those who were once punished for consuming or selling a now legal drug. The governor has pledged to issue social equity licenses this year, she said.

“What we need to do now is make sure that there are people who are able to get those very first participation licenses coming out, anywhere really. I cannot wait for that day and I know that candidates who have waited and waited and believed and dreamed all this time also cannot wait for this day. And we’ll get there, ”she said.

While the current all-white titans of Illinois’ marijuana industry may have a head start, Hutchinson said the legal cannabis ecosphere is in its infancy, so it’s not too late. for future social equity licensees to be successful. She said the administration is committed to helping sustain and ensure their success with state backing, and what is crucial is that social equity owners and investors move forward before potential federal legalization.

But Dillon said she had issues with Ford’s plan and didn’t trust the process. She also doesn’t trust Illinois officials and their promises to investigate whether social equity goals worked as intended before issuing future rounds of licenses.

“If you can rig an app, you can certainly rig the result of a disparity study. Again, I’m from Illinois so I know how it’s going, ”Dillon said.

Dillon also said the IDFPR should not regulate dispensaries and much of the process; Rather, she said Illinois should have a commission made up of marijuana experts and contractors and people affected by past stricter drug policies.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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