Ambrose Jackson, president and CEO of Helios Labs with his young son Kai. Credit: Submitted

Illinois craft grow license winner, Ambrose Jackson, juggles the impact of COVID-19 on his day-to-day life, while trying to figure out the next steps in the highwire act of launching a craft grow business in Illinois. 

“We’ve been able to move things forward since receiving our license at the beginning of August,” said Jackson, president, and CEO of Helios Labs. “Just last month, we submitted for permitting and we expect to hear back from the Village of Broadview any day now. So, that puts us on track to begin construction in 30 days. We feel very positive about that aspect.” 

Lucky enough to obtain his Illinois license in the August craft grow lottery before another round of litigation held up awards, Jackson and his team still face challenges getting his craft grow operation with a focus on small batch, high quality cannabis, off the ground. 

Through Helios Labs, Jackson and his team are planning to cultivate 14,000 sq. ft. of cannabis using a perpetual yield schedule when the state allows, he said. 

“Our brands focus on cannabinoid content and terpene profiles that don’t currently exist in the market. We plan to bring the type of variety in products and strains that should be available to recreational consumers.” 

An Illinois judge affirmed a stay against Illinois regulators awarding 60 craft grow licenses in December with the first hearing date set for March 10. 

Grown In reported last week that attorneys representing 13 Illinois craft grow license applicants filed a Rule 383 motion in the Illinois Supreme Court asking the court to modify the recent stay so that winners of 47 uncontested licenses can move forward with their delayed business plans.

Since receiving the license, Jackson, and the other members of his team, have been raising funds in a phased approach to ensure they can move the project forward according to plan.

“Therein lies the biggest issue I think,” Jackson shared. “Once you receive a license as a social equity applicant, from my perspective, I think there’s a lot of belief that that’s kind of the measure of success as a social equity applicant. It’s the part of the equation that I don’t think enough thought and due diligence was placed prior to the state launching the adult-use legalization program.”

Becoming operational and producing revenue, is when you’ve really gained access to the industry, Jackson explained. 

After receiving a license, obtaining investment funding is the next major challenge and barrier for social equity applicants and license holders, he added.

“It’s two years later [after Illinois adult-use was launched], multiple billions of dollars have been made, by current operators and we, the few social equity license holders on the craft grow side that have been fortunate enough to be awarded a license back in August are still waiting for release of state financial resources from the Cannabis Business Development Fund. We’re still waiting for those monies to be released to help us.” 

Grown In requested comment from Danielle Perry, Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer on when those funds would be released but she did not respond by publication.

Subject to appropriations from the Cannabis Business Development Fund (CBDF), the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, established the Social Equity Loan Program to provide financial assistance to social equity applicants. Through this loan program, DCEO offers low-interest loans to qualified social equity applicants applying for available licenses.

Though he said he could not speak to when social equity funding would be released, Illinois State Rep. LaShawn Ford, who serves on the state’s Cannabis Equity Commission, told Grown In Tuesday that the license holdup is a “slap in the face to social equity applicants. 

“If we really want social equity to thrive, then we should act like it,” Ford said. “No business survives a struggle this long. So, you have to make sure you support the social equity applicants so that they don’t die struggling.” 

Cannabis tax revenue has been collected since January 2020, Jackson said.

“Five months after me receiving a license for craft grow and five months after me submitting an application to access those funds that were supposedly set aside for me, there’s still no date in sight as to when they will make those monies available to us. We’re the ones struggling right now and need money, while everybody else is raking in money.” 

A transportation and dispensary license still being held up by court order, were also awarded to Jackson and his team.

“There are so many families impacted by the State’s rollout of adult use,” Jackson said, adding social equity applicants and winners are sitting on the sidelines.

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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.