With the nation slowly but surely changing how it views marijuana usage and its distribution, many states have passed laws to legalize and or decriminalize cannabis. With another yet another state passing marijuana legislation, things seem to be looking up for those looking to profit from cannabis, but Black entrepreneurs are not too sure.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and making the state the 11th in the country to sign weed legislation. The bill makes it legal for residents 21 and over to possess 30 grams of marijuana and 500 milligrams of THC infused products. The state also took the important step of decriminalizing weed as well with the bill creating automatic expunge records for those who had been arrested for possessing 30 grams.
According to The Chicago Sun Times, the bill is also supposed to create a Restore, Reinvest and Renew program that would give 25 percent of cannabis revenue to disproportionately impacted by divestment. And when it comes to dispensaries, sponsors claimed this legislation would help minority community become involved in the business.
“With this legislation, our state once again is a leader, putting forward the most equity-centric cannabis legalization in the nation,” Pritzker said.
Though many have agreed that the new bill is very progressive, potential Black cannabis entrepreneurs said they still believe they have not been getting heard. Illinois has 20 marijuana cultivators and 50 medical dispensaries where there is a lack of minority ownership. Under the new law, they will have first dibs on the marijuana licenses to have the chance to operate as a dual dispensary. The state does not plan on distributing licenses for new cultivators until July 2021, which has some potential Black entrepreneurs afraid that by the time they even begin, there will be no room for them.
“These guys are going to snatch up all potential sites that could be critical, especially in minority neighborhoods,” Donte Townsend, who is president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization, said prior to the signing of the new bill. “A lot of these neighborhoods that have the potential of being gentrified are going to be flooded with dispensaries and then when it comes time for other applicants, specifically the social equity applicants, to look for a location or get started, they won’t have anywhere to go.”
Illinois is not an isolated case as Black people all over the country face huge hurdles when it comes to being able to participate in the thriving legal marijuana industry. According to Vice, costs to sell weed legally can go up to $120,000, which does not include legal fees, insurance, space rental, marketing, and taxes. Expenses can easily balloon into millions of dollars. Forbes reported that minority business owners are less likely to be approved for business loans and when they are approved they receive lower amounts and higher interest rates.
Vice also noted that the wealth gap has also contributed to the lack of Black people represented in the cannabis industry with white families making 10 times more than the net worth of Black families.
Though Illinois’ new bill plans to designate a certain amount of licenses for minorities looking to become involved in the business, the law still does not seem to address the factors that will make it compete with established dispensaries. Dan Pettigrew, who runs the largest Black-owned marijuana dispensary in the country out of Denver, expressed fears that these dispensaries will dominate the whole industry in Illinois.
“That’s a pretty big giveaway to the industry, giving them a serious, significant head start, and potentially a monopoly,” he said.