Illinois set itself apart from other states in many ways when it became the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis.
The state was the first in the country to pass it through the Legislature instead of by voter referendum. The bill included provisions to tackle some of the biggest criticisms other cannabis legalization efforts in the country have received — that they don’t do enough to address the damage decades of marijuana criminalization and the war on drugs caused in minority communities.
Lawmakers, especially from the Black and Latino caucus, wanted to ensure any legalization measure would include people from their communities, who’ve historically been left out of the cannabis industry, said Kareem Kenyatta, co-founder of the Majority-Minority Group, which advises applicants.
“It’s no secret that the current industry is 99.9% white,” said Kenyatta, who lobbied Illinois lawmakers to include social equity provisions in the cannabis legislation.
These provisions are intended to increase diversity among marijuana business owners and executives by giving license applicants who’ve lived in areas of the state that have been severely harmed by the war on drugs a better chance of winning a license, Kenyatta explained.
“If you’ve been in these areas, you should have access to and be able to participate in the industry that you probably have encountered at some point in your life,” he said.
The law also extends these incentives for people, and their immediate family members, who have been arrested or convicted for a minor marijuana offense.
The state uses different criteria to score applications for dispensary, craft grower and other licenses. Twenty percent of an applicant’s overall score depends on meeting one of the state’s definitions of a “social equity applicant.”
So far no new licenses have been awarded to anyone in the state. All of the initial licenses went