lemonade lemons

Taylor Simpson / Unsplash

Is that glass of lemonade half full? Credit: Taylor Simpson / Unsplash

Now that two Illinois cannabis dispensary lotteries have been completed, a secondary market for licenses is already rolling, and charges of lottery mismanagement have been lodged in court, activists and applicants are emotionally struggling with the results of months of waiting.

For many cannabis activists, there was an expectation that state legislation passed last May would ensure a sweeping majority of Illinois licenses would go to People of Color hailing from communities impacted by the War on Drugs. However, the results of those lotteries found many licenses went to teams allied with existing cannabis companies. And, in recent weeks, a brisk market has popped up for buying licenses from undercapitalized minority-led teams.

“I heard a lot of stories about people who wanted to change the face of their community by opening a business and being an employer. I heard that, I hope it’s real. Otherwise, what the heck did we do this for?” expressed Edie Moore, executive director of Chicago NORML and a license winner herself.

Moore’s frustration was echoed by numerous activists, some of whom are now working to connect minority-led investors with winning minority-led license teams.

“We put up a big fight and to just give it all up to the big companies would put it all in vain,” said Belicia Royster, a leader of SEEN, an activist group for minority license applicants. “There are other resources they turn to. There are several minority investors looking to connect, there are several teams that did not win that are looking to partner up.”

Others are less sanguine, such as activist and attorney Akele Parnell.

“At the end of the day there’s only so many licenses. I think the cannabis economy can bring opportunity to people of color. But we gotta be real about what that is, and what dispensaries can bring. There’s only so much money and so many employees. I think the idea doesn’t work that cannabis businesses in and of themselves will rejuvenate any particular community. The idea should be that there’s a diversity of ownership and creation of generational wealth. But we’re never going to see a community-wide impact from that.”

Jume Akinnagbe, a member of applicant team Little Fish LLC, and has experience applying for licenses in Maryland, New Jersey, and Georgia, as well as Illinois, thinks the license process was never going to work for minorities.

What I’ve seen applying for licenses in different states is it’s almost impossible for people of color to win licenses. It’s an industry that is impoverishing us and crushing dreams,” said Akinnagbe. “You have the hope and dream, but those licenses are premarked for certain people. It’s just a charade and a scam.”


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...