420 with CNW – Illinois Social Equity Applicants Want Marijuana License Lottery Delayed

September 14, 2020 03:25:37

It is widely known that the decades’ long war on drugs wreaked havoc on certain communities. In fact, when advocates started pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana way back, one of their biggest objectives was to help communities that had been adversely affected by the war on drugs. For most states that legalized cannabis, that included granting more cannabis dispensary licenses to minorities that qualified for social equity as well as expunging the records of those with marijuana-related charges.

Illinois’ legal cannabis program was no different. The state’s recreational cannabis law required that people with low-level marijuana convictions have their records cleared and minorities that had been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs were to be given special consideration in regards to cannabis dispensary licenses. However, months after Illinois legalized recreational cannabis, some social equity applicants say the state is falling short of its objective to repair the systemic harm caused by the war on drugs.

“The spirit of the law is to repair those harms and create true equity within that demographic,” says Belica Royster, a social equity applicant. She and other social equity applicants argue that the state is not awarding enough marijuana dispensary licenses to minority owners. According to a group called the Social Equity Empowerment Network, the process to award 75 new cannabis dispensary licenses has not been equitable. The denied social equity applicants are asking Governor JB Pritzker for transparency in how the social equity status is awarded.

“We just want the playing field to be fair, that’s all we wanted. And based on how the outcome was, even part of the process, it was not, in fact, fair,” says Indrani Peyton, another social equity applicant. She was part of a group that applied for social equity status but failed to get a license. In total, more than 700 groups submitted 4,000 applications and according to the state, only 21 will advance to the next stage.

“The facts show that of the 21 applicants only 12 are owned and controlled by people of color. How is that maximizing social equity with these numbers?” says Royster. She states that most of the winners are tied to big marijuana companies, two with links to restauranteur Phil Stefani and former Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard. Applicants who are majority owned by a person living in an area affected by the war on drugs, someone with a marijuana-related arrest or a company that can employ 10 people who meet that criteria have a higher chance of gaining social equity status.

“All that chalks up to be is an employer, and to me, that does not balance the scales of justice,’ Peyton says. Some social equity applicants who fell out of the race have filed federal lawsuits against Gov. Pritzker’s administration, hoping to delay the lottery until there is more transparency.

Industry watchers say cannabis entities like Pure Extract Technologies Inc. would wish to see the complaints of the social equity applicants addressed so that what was envisioned when passing the legalization law is put into practice.

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