How 20 African Americans From Illinois Are Working Together To File For Cannabis Licenses

By Natan Ponieman and Javier Hasse.

A Chicago-based group of approximately 20 African-American cannabis entrepreneurs is joining forces to combat racial inequality in the Illinois industry.

Using the state’s newly enacted social equity provision, the group is using common resources to apply for medical cannabis dispensary licenses throughout the state.

Looking For Balance In A State Of Imbalance

To date, all medical and retail dispensaries in Illinois are owned by white individuals, primarily white men, according to the group 40 Acres and a Mule.

The inequity of this distribution is particularly strong in the metro Chicago area, where the population is about 60% black and Hispanic. 

The 40 Acres and a Mule LLC consists of family and friends who have lived in Illinois for over five generations, most of them from professional backgrounds ranging from medicine and law to education, public safety and technology. 

40 Acres and a Mule filed applications with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation for the first round of dispensary licenses in January 2020. IDFPR will issue 75 new retail marijuana dispensary licenses in Illinois that are expected to be announced by May 1, though the approval deadline may be delayed due to the impact of the coronavirus. 

“When we decided to pursue these applications, we noticed that many of the groups who were qualifying for social equity status were using random people of color, and then making them the ‘front person’ for the larger white firm,” said Greg Owens, one of the partners in 40 Acres and a Mule. 

Working In Solidarity For A Common Goal

Owens, along with his cousins Shakirah Martinez and LaRicia Nelson, are coordinating the Illinois state application process for 40 Acres and a Mule. 

“We decided to make our social equity application comply with the spirit of the provision 100% accurate. We are all Afro Americans in 40 Acres and a Mule.”

Owens said that none the group's members individually had the resources to compete in the application process, so they decided to pool their resources and collective professional expertise to help each applicant in the LLC obtain their own separate dispensary license. 

“This became a collective effort. We then divided the responsibilities to make sure we identified the best locations, got support from local officials, secured the best available professional services and drafted very competitive applications.”

Based on a co-op business model, the group agreed that if one team gets approved for a state license in any category, the rest will support the winners.

 “We will do whatever we have to do to help get any members of our team up and running in the cannabis business,” Owens said.  

“We’ll do this by buying property and providing any needed professional expertise. Those of us who don’t receive a license will apply again in the next round.”

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Posted In: CannabisMarketsInterview40 Acres and a MuleIllinoissocial equity
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