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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Illinois is far from social justice in the cannabis market

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In 2020, Illinois enacted a widely expected social justice program for cannabis. The Cannabis Regulation and Taxes Act was drafted “in order to address harms caused by the disproportionate application of laws relating to cannabis,” offering “financial assistance and license application benefits” to social equity applicants.

Two years later, black and brown cannabis licensors were unable to use their licenses due to court-related litigation. Aside from correcting the state’s wrongful implementation of the license application process, there has been no substantive cannabis legalization enacted since 2019, leaving promises of fairness and justice unfulfilled.

In 2021, our coalition (including the IL Equity Alliance, Chicago NORML – the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform – former Senator Ricky Hendon and several small businesses helping) crafted cannabis policies to create a healthy environment for social justice companies.

We discovered additional barriers to aspirants in the cannabis industry at all levels.

Throughout the summer, we’ve sponsored webinars to educate Illinois lawmakers, create presentations, secure subject matter experts, and connect with lawmakers. Unfortunately, legislators have not made progress on legislation needed to support social justice and diversity in the industry.

We hope that lawmakers will work to open new businesses, create jobs, and generate millions of dollars in revenue by supporting the expansion of cannabis equity and justice. We call on lawmakers to commit to a long-term solution to the Illinois cannabis program, including legislation on social consumption; Entrepreneurship support employee badges, transparency, accountability and authority.

social consumption

Illinois residents still criminalize cannabis consumption simply because there are few places for legal consumption. We formulated HB5570 so that entrepreneurs can obtain state-approved cannabis consumption lounges and special event permits. This will create spaces for legal cannabis consumption, reduce criminalization, empower entrepreneurs, create jobs, and increase tax revenue.

Business Support

Newly licensed farmers and craft carriers are unable to scale their business to compete in the existing and established market that is predominantly entirely white. We’ve backed the HB4097, which allows crafts development licensees to immediately expand their growing capacity to be more competitive. We also supported the HB3799 amendment to ensure fair contracts for new transport licensors.

employee badges

Candidates for cannabis recruitment do not have a standardized and fast badge process or appeal process if the agent ID badge needed to work in the industry has been denied. We formulated HB5457 to address inconsistencies in current unfair hiring practices.

Transparency, accountability and power

There is limited accountability and transparency because the cannabis program is run by disparate employees from 13 government agencies. To increase transparency in cannabis decision-making and to provide greater support to entrepreneurs, patients and employees, we supported HB5710 to establish a central authority for cannabis.

None of these laws were introduced at the brief 2022 legislative session. Lawmakers felt unwilling to vote on cannabis legalization, despite our efforts to educate them on important issues. We are very disappointed, but not surprised, that the Illinois Cannabis Business Industry Association has not been supportive of new cannabis legalization, and that their leadership’s ties to Springfield are a major cause for concern.

If meaningful cannabis legalization is not passed in 2022, Illinois’ “gold standard cannabis program” will lag further in its goals to support the very communities that were meant to benefit, and lawmakers will continue to fall short of their promises as of 2019.

Passing meaningful cannabis legalization in 2022 is an important component of creating a healthier market where minority business owners can thrive. If you are a community member that cares about cannabis justice, contact your senator and your state representative and ask for their support for comprehensive cannabis legalization this year. If you are a legislator, there are several things you can do:

  • Meet with our organizations to shape a long-term vision for the Illinois Cannabis Program.
  • Call a special session this summer to discuss cannabis legalization.
  • Commit to setting aside useful time for cannabis throughout the summer and during the fall veto session.

If lawmakers give social justice legislation the attention it deserves, Illinois can begin to deliver on its promises of fairness and justice. We call on the Governor and Illinois legislators to prioritize equality in cannabis and pass legislation on social consumption, support for entrepreneurs, employee badges, transparency, accountability and authority legislation.

Send messages to letter(at)suntimes.com

Keanna Hughes is the Executive Director of Chicago NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Doug Kelly is CEO of the IL Equity Cannabis Consortium

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