Prior to the Chicago recreational cannabis business boom and subsequent product shortage, minorities wanted industry involvement, but business licenses were going to primarily Caucasian men. Chicago-based marijuana monopoly Cresco Labs had previously launched an “incubator program” on November 6, leading up to the Illinois state legalization on January 1, 2020. On the company’s mind was inclusion. The boom was coming, and minorities wanted practical resources to get their marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) off the ground just as quickly.
The incubator program became the
minority-centric change that the cannabis industry needed.
Cresco Labs has locations in seven states and oversees more than 30 cannabis production facilities, along with 20 dispensaries. This incubator program became the minority-centric change that the cannabis industry needed.
This program, part of Cresco’s Social Equity and Educational Development (SEED) initiative, seeks to provide technical and financial assistance to minority-owned cannabis companies in Illinois. The ultimate focus of SEED was and still is, to create a more inclusive working environment for medical and recreational marijuana companies within the state. The majority of licenses issued for new Illinois canna-business ventures neglected the minority owners, so this program was created to fight back and diversify the new wave.
In addition to providing technical assistance, group mentoring sessions, and personalized business plans, SEED works with local universities to educate on the cannabis industry and current rulings, and Cresco Labs works with legal agencies to potentially expunge program candidates’ drug records.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture will issue a limited number of permits for budding canna-businesses, including a demand that those who were deemed “social equity” applicants, based upon the new mandates out of Massachusetts. These applications can cost thousands of dollars for potential entrepreneurs, but the benefits are well worth the initial investment.
As with Massachusetts, the qualifications for application include being a resident in Illinois’ “Disproportionately Impacted” area, being arrested or convicted for cannabis-related offenses eligible for expungement (These offenses include possession of cannabis up to 500 g or the intent to deliver up to 30 g), or being a parent, spouse, or child of the candidate arrested or convicted of cannabis-related offenses eligible to be expunged. Only checking off one of three qualifies the person/business.
These mandates were set in place in order to ensure equality in licensing to all interested parties, regardless of the person or business’ ability to locate the means with which to succeed on their own. This assistance not only allows for financial help and business consulting; it also enables those “social equity” applicants quicker application processing and access to a low-interest loan fund. The mandates, coupled with the new Illinois incubator program, allow minorities to engage in legal cannabis, an inclusion that even a few years ago would have been impossible. Even still, a connotation of drug violence puts a squeeze on minorities in areas affected by the War on Drugs.
The Illinois deadline for new craft growing and infusing businesses is March 16; new licenses will be issued in full by July 1. Involving minorities in the lucrative cannabis industry will help tourism, local economies, the job market, and potentially the homeless population in areas of lower socioeconomic status.
“We’ll spend the next few weeks going through those applications, so we’ll hopefully have an industry that looks very different than the way it does anyway else, frankly in the world,” said Toi Hutchison, a Cannabis Advisor to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.
As of November 8, 2019, there were 130 active participants in this program, all seeking dispensary licenses in Illinois.