Illinois House moves to increase diversity in marijuana industry “dominated by rich white men”

Washington-DC

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — If the state’s 2019 law to legalize recreational marijuana stacked the deck in favor of wealthy business owners who already had a pre-established foothold in the industry, a new measure approved in the House would reshuffle that deck to give minority business owners a stronger chance to break into the lucrative industry.

“There are zero Black owners in the cannabis industry today,” Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago Heights) said, “or Brown, or majority white woman.”

Medical marijuana companies were prioritized for the initial round of state licenses to sell recreational weed in 2019. In a follow up round of licenses awarded through a lottery process, critics highlighted flaws in the application process that benefited investors with deep pockets who were bought up to 10 applications, effectively crowding start-up companies out of the nascent industry.

“I’m not surprised, because when the bill was written, the industry helped write it,” Ford said. “They knew exactly how they would be at an advantage.”

Ford’s measure, House Bill 1443, was approved 70-33 on Tuesday afternoon. 12 Republicans voted for it. 15 members did not vote.

In an interview moments before the vote, Ford said the updated legislation would require the state to “deliver on its promise to the first 75 applicants that have been waiting for almost 400 days to be awarded a license.”

“The state owes those people that have paid their money to be in the lottery,” he said.

If the Senate and the Governor approve the plan, Illinois’ Department of Professional and Financial Regulation would relax requirements for veteran business owners to achieve a perfect score on their license application. The state would also adapt a “cut score” to help military veterans or people who live in a territory the state has designated as a “Disproportionately Impacted Area” that suffered harm from the war on drugs, or a business owned by someone who personally experienced a criminal conviction related to cannabis.

“We believe that had we had this approach earlier, we believe that Black people and Brown people would be in this emerging economy and it wouldn’t be dominated by rich white men,” Ford said.

The new proposal would also require greater transparency. Companies who won state licenses would have to disclose their information to the public. Until now, the state has concealed the identities of those companies who won licenses.

After the measure passed the House, Representative Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) let out a cheer from the floor, celebrating “Weed for everybody.”

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