Chicago NORML executive director Edie Moore (center in black) with then-Illinois State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, State Rep. Jehan Booth Gordon, and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy following the passage of Illinois’ 2019 recreational cannabis law. (ChicagoNORML)

Veteran cannabis entrepreneur and Chicago NORML executive director Edie Moore is now, with her husband Craig, a majority owner of two of the 21 Illinois tiebreaker applicant groups scheduled to participate in a lottery drawing for 75 coveted retail licenses on September 23. 

Moore, a U.S. Army veteran, was among the first cohort of Illinois cannabis retail and cultivation license holders in 2015, when the state introduced its medical marijuana program. 

“Because we were inexperienced and naive,” she said, “we spent all of our investor money up front and when the time came we didn’t have enough money to stand up a dispensary.”

In 2016 she sold a majority interest of her dispensary and cultivator licenses to Phoenix-based 4Front Ventures, which operates the Mission South Chicago Cannabis Dispensary and a cultivation facility in Elk Grove Village. 4Front bought her out completely in 2018. 

In 2017, Moore founded Chicago NORML, a regional chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, with the mission to educate “people of color” in the cannabis industry and advocate for more diversity in ownership among cannabis businesses in Illinois. 

“We were still learning,” she said. “I didn’t know shit about how to lobby. We took our cues from the national organization, Illinois NORML and [State Rep.] Kelly Cassidy and [State Sen.] Heather Steans.”

As more application groups join a lawsuit against state regulators that claims inconsistencies in the scoring process and stakeholders across the entire industry in Illinois question whether the social equity provisions written in the state law are being implemented correctly, Moore says the perfect scores her applications received from third-party reviewer KPMG were a result of her previous experience in the industry.

“I think my secret sauce was probably that I’d done this before,” she said. “Both teams had done this before, are in the business and have studied, taught and interpreted the law. I didn’t start doing this months ago.”

Moore confirmed that Chicago NORML member Kara Wright also made the tie-breaker. Wright identified herself as a member of applicant group Green Equity Ventures during an online Chicago NORML meeting on Sunday. Moore also said Chicago NORML member Kiana Hughes, owner of Elevated Education, which provides education for cannabis businesses and recreational consumers, is attached to two groups in the tie-breaker process. 

In February, Chicago NORML along with Oakton Community College and Teague International Corporation received $500,000 from the Illinois Department of Finance and Economic Opportunity to mentor startup cannabis companies. When asked about a perceived conflict of interest between her roles with Chicago NORML and as dispensary applicant leader, Moore said the advisory scope did not include reviewing member applications. 

“Somebody accused us of getting $250K to help people write their applications,” Moore said. “That’s not true. We didn’t have the capacity. We wanted to make sure they weren’t entering into bogus management deals or fronts or getting used.”

Moore said a $60,000 grant from the state was used to create a series of five different videos that addressed different aspects of the application process, and that money was invested mostly on third-party subject matter experts.

“Edie’s in a tough spot, but she has to advocate to address the imbalances,” said Bruce Montgomery, founder of the Entrepreneur Success Program business accelerator and an applicant for one of 40 Illinois craft grow licenses expected to be announced later this month. 

“Illinois needs to appreciate that it just can’t have this fairy godmother approach to social equity. For all the shock and alarm from legislators, they are going to have to see if there are other mechanisms, including the private sector, to address inequities.”

Moore, who is also a craft grow applicant, said Chicago NORML will continue to focus on community engagement and advocacy, including supporting licensure for social consumption, which may be addressed by the Illinois General Assembly next month. 

“The industry needs to work hand-in-hand with the applicants,” she said, and “all have a seat at the table. It just can’t be us versus them. It’s not gonna work that way.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.