Grow, Gift, Repair

Equity update in Chicago

According to Hutchinson, Illinois is the only state that has created a dispensary application process where 20% of the revenue generated by dispensaries must go toward social equity. They must also address the call for equity with diverse and local board members, employees, community benefits plans, and how they intend to help the community they are located in.

“We knew, going into this, [that] it’s about something bigger than whether or not someone can get legally high,” Hutchinson explained. “This is about creating new entrepreneurs and undoing the harm that has hit our communities harder than anybody else.”

By her account, small nonprofit organizations designed to serve Black and brown communities are always the first to on the chopping block of budget cuts. She says that this was one of the main reasons why the fund was created.

“The same thing that happens in almost every industry and that’s we’re under-resourced. Cannabis is not unlike any other industry we’ve operated in so we had to think about what happens when dollars get redirected and why do our communities still look the way they’ve looked if people keep saying they’re giving us money. One of them is a lack of sustainable, repeatable resources. Intentional dollars that go into the same places so you can measure and track results,” she said.

Missing the boat on cannabis?

As Black Chicago continues to navigate through the thick smoke of the cannabis business, the biggest question echoing from the street corners to City Hall meetings is this: have we missed out on an opportunity to cultivate generational wealth from legal cannabis?

Stewart said he believes things are just getting started for Black Chicagoans.
“I think we’re at the starting point. I really believe cannabis wealth doesn’t just lie in having the overhead or license for just a cannabis-related business,” he said. “There are opportunities for things that are already in business that contract the city, [such as] vendors, ancillary businesses.”

Some entrepreneurs like city resident Maloy also see opportunities outside of the dispensaries or street-corner hustle. Cannabis enthusiasts can seek out a license for craft growing, she said, or a license to make cannabis-infused foods.

“It’s a lot of ways to be legal and do some good shit in cannabis. You don’t necessarily have to go through the dispensary route,” Maloy said. “You need to come up with a clear and concise plan that you need to do to survive and get this money.”

State Sen. Hutchinson warns that if Black residents keep their interests too narrowly focused on dispensaries and cultivation farms, they could miss out on untapped or overlooked revenue streams in cannabis.

“We have got to understand that this is an entire industry and there will be all kinds of things that will grow that have nothing to do with touching a planet,” she said as she referenced the hemp industry and other cannabis adjacent industries such as transportation.

“This is an entire industry and if we don’t see this for what it is, the entire business of it, then we will miss the boat,” Hutchinson said. “We have a long way to go.”