Illinois social equity advocates gathered for a press conference Wednesday, June 2, 2021. From left in blue shirt, Doug Kelly, Illinois Sr. Advisor for Cannabis Control Toi Hutchinson, State Rep. LaShawn Ford, Rickey Hendon, Tyrone Muhammed. Credit: Mike Fourcher / Grown In

In a rambling, raucous press conference held at a revered West Side Chicago soul food joint Wednesday, Black social equity cannabis advocates congratulated each other for last week’s passage of 115 new Illinois cannabis licenses, while warning that there were more fights to come.

“This is the issue and a model for what we can do to change the lives of Black people,” said Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), the legislator that led the charge for more licenses. But then, minutes later he warned the crowd, “There will never be true social equity in this industry, because it just can’t happen. Because the state and the country have allowed the horses to get out the gate, and it’s too late.”

Toi Hutchinson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Senior Advisor on Cannabis Control, who two years ago helped lead the passage of Illinois’ adult-use legalization, also had smiles for the crowd, but then a warning of her own.

“This is a very, very long fight,” said Hutchinson. “What we’re trying to do here is dismantle 90 years of drug policy that created a situation where we were locked out and locked up for decades. Undoing that will take a lot.”

The new legislation creates a series of new lotteries for the 2,530 applicants who missed out on the first lottery group that assigned 75 dispensary licenses. That leaves 115 more chances for the brass ring, which still means many hopefuls will be left out.

Even so, applicants at Wednesday’s presser were calling for quick action.

“Gov. Prizker, we ask that you not only sign this bill, but expedite the process for lotteries. People are losing money on a daily basis. There’s no PPP for cannabis,” said J.R. Fleming, who had submitted applications with multiple groups.

“We pulled people off of their jobs, they lost income. We had to keep putting money out there to maintain locations [and] staff members,” said Aline Williams of non-profit House Our Heroes, which seeks to house military veterans in Illinois. Her organization planned to operate a cannabis dispensary and direct the profits to the organization’s housing projects.

Gov. Pritzker has not announced a date to sign the bill. 

As the presser wound down, former State Senator Rickey Hendon, who had been emceeing the event, set a new goal for the group. 

“I talked to several aldermen and we mentioned to the mayor that we would like waivers so minorities can have our stores downtown!” he exclaimed. “We want to get that tourist dollar as well.”


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...