SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois is conducting a taxpayer-funded study to find out if racial discrimination exists within the state’s recreational marijuana industry.
The Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer will conduct a Cannabis Disparity and Availability Study to analyze whether or not discrimination exists in the state’s system of awarding licenses to minority-owned cannabis businesses.
Illinois legalized the sale of adult-use recreational marijuana in 2019. As part of the law, the state was required to reserve licenses to “Social Equity” applicants.
To be considered a “social equity” applicant, the proposed owner has to a) live in an area “disproportionately impacted” by the War on Drugs; b) have been arrested or convicted of a cannabis-related offense, or c) have a parent, child, or spouse who were arrested or convicted of a cannabis-related offense.
In its first license lottery in 2021, the state awarded none of its 50 reserved licenses to “social equity applicants” after the state found no marijuana businesses were majority Black, Latino or women-owned, due to a botched scoring system.
Forty-one percent of the licenses were ultimately awarded to Black-owned businesses by the end of last year. Gov. JB Pritzker celebrated the opening of the first “social equity license” in Chicago in December. Ivy Hall Dispensary, at 1720 N. Damen Avenue, says its ownership team is 61% Black.
To be sure that race or gender minority owners are getting equal representation in the awarding of cannabis licenses, to operate a dispensary or cultivation farm, the State has contracted the Nerevu Group, a minority and women-owned data analytics firm, to research whether the program is operating as intended.
If not, the Disparity Study will include recommendations for “reducing or eliminating any identified barriers to entry.”
“This effort is a vital assessment of the State’s cannabis social equity licensing system,” said Acting Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer Erin Johnson. “We look forward to seeing a final report that truly incorporates the voices of Illinois social equity applicants and our new cannabis businesses.”
The final report is due to the Illinois General Assembly in February 2024.
Adult use sales of recreational marijuana soared past $1.5 billion in Illinois in 2022.
The new figure represents a 12% increase over 2021 and adds up to $435 million in tax revenue for the state.
Some of the tax revenue generated from marijuana sales is directed to minority communities, including Rockford. The City said it planned for tax funds collected from legal drugs will go toward local youth programs, communities impacted by gun violence, and promoting employment opportunities.
There are currently 113 licensed cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, with an additional 189 in the process of being approved.