A year later: Racial inequities remain after legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois – Columbia Chronicle

Nature’s Care Company in West Loop, 810 W. Randolph St., is a Black-operated dispensary. Mengshin Lin

Recreational marijuana sales in Illinois have seen a record level of success with dispensaries pocketing more than $109 million during the first three months of 2021, but what has not changed is the lack of dispensaries owned by Black or Latinx individuals and other marginalized people.

“A lot of it comes down to the barriers to entering into the cannabis industry more broadly,” said Peter Contos, advocacy coordinator at the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition. “There are also things that the state did that made it more challenging to get into the industry.”

As marijuana enters its second year of recreational sales in Illinois, organizations and lawmakers are continuing to push for equal opportunities and pointing out the flaws in past legislative decisions made by the state.

Less than 2% of all dispensary owners in Illinois are Black or Latinx, and less than 20% are women, according to a June 2020 report by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

When the state permitted medical cannabis, Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, said the individuals evaluating the applications did not know any personal information about each cannabis firm that applied, meaning factors like race and ethnicity were not used during the evaluation process.

As a result, the majority of licenses were awarded to white male applicants, while only a few minority applicants won. All of those licenses were sold to make more money on the sale of their dispensary, Althoff said. 

Contos said it is a problem when companies outside of Illinois have the capital to buy out independent operators because the market can become saturated with these larger companies and leave little room for local entrepreneurs and minorities. 

For example, local dispensaries like

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