Anticipating the opening of a new recreational-only dispensary in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, Verano’s Zen Leaf-brand signed a community benefits agreement with the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, requiring the dispensary to adhere to a series of social equity goals. This is the second agreement the Coalition has signed, the first was with Acreage Holding’s Nature’s Care dispensary in Rolling Meadows.

The agreement includes a $16 an hour minimum wage, commitment to hire at least 50% of dispensary employees from Disproportionately Impacted Areas, and to purchase at least 10% of dispensary products or services from M/W/DBE businesses among other agreements.

“For each one of the commitments made, we track progress on that, quarterly and bi-annually. There’s certain reporting metrics included as part of the CBA. [Zen Leaf] will provide that information so the Coalition can know where we are with meeting our goals,” said attorney Akele Parnell of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which is representing the Coalition in negotiations with dispensary operators.

“Progress is a collective effort, and it happens one step at a time,” said Renzo Mejia, senior vice president for Zen Leaf, in a press release. “We are proud to enter this agreement and thank the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition for their groundbreaking organizing of Illinois’ adult-use industry.”

Parnell says at least one other CBA is in final negotiations with another dispensary, and others have been in progress since January. But, larger multi-state operators are more likely to pursue agreements. 

“So much of the market is dominated by MSOs,” sais Parnell. “They are already pursuing their plus-one dispensaries. In our conversations with some of the smaller operators, we notice that they don’t have fully developed CSR departments, programs or initiatives. It’s a mom and pop shop, they come up with their own ideas and do it. They don’t have a full time person engaged.


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...