First Social Equity Dispensaries Open in Illinois

Both stores are in Chicago.
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A pair of newly opened recreational cannabis shops in Chicago have made history as the state of Illinois’ first two social equity marijuana dispensaries. 

CBS Chicago reports that Ivy Hall Damen, whose ownership team is 61% Black, opened its doors on Monday, while Green Rose Dispensary, whose “management team is two thirds Black and Latinx,” opened this past weekend. 

Ever since legal adult-use cannabis sales launched in Illinois at the start of 2020, “every dispensary that has opened [in the state] has been operated by ownership teams that are mostly white,” according to CBS Chicago

“We’ve been working to get a seat at the table for a while now, and we’re finally able to do that,” said Nigel Dandridge, the co-founder of Ivy Hall Damen, as quoted by CBS Chicago. “When this industry first opened up, we didn’t see anyone in our community benefiting, or even being able to participate. So it was kind of hypocritical.”

“I think it’s important that we can show you what we’re doing. We want everyone to benefit. Our staff’s been working hard, and we’re just excited to share it with everyone,” Dandridge added.

Social equity programs have become hallmarks of state-legal marijuana markets, with government officials mindful of the importance of offering economic opportunities to individuals and communities who have been disproportionately affected by pot prohibition. 

But Illinois had come under fire for its failure to provide dispensary licenses to members of the Black and Latino communities, despite the fact that the state had pledged to designate a significant number for such applicants.

In July, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration announced that it was issuing 149 conditional state licenses for adult-use cannabis retailers, all of which qualified as social equity applicants.

“Illinois is leading the way in addressing the War on Drugs as no state has before, and dispensary ownership that reflects our state’s diversity is a product of that commitment,” Pritzker said in a statement at the time. “These licenses represent a significant step toward accountability for the decades of injustice preceding cannabis legalization. Illinois will continue to deliver on the promises of putting equity at the forefront of this process.”

According to Pritzker’s office, of “the businesses selected through the lottery, 41% are majority Black-owned, 7% are majority White-owned, and 4% are majority Latino-owned, while 38% of awardees did not disclose the race of their owners.”

Last week, Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced that “$8.75 million in Direct Forgivable Loans fully financed by the State will be made available to all conditionally-approved social equity loan applicants in order to provide immediate access to capital,” and that “pending the completion of a simplified documentation process, forgivable loan amounts between $50,000-$500,000 will be released immediately.”

The Cannabis Social Equity Loan Program, according to Pritzker’s office, “is a first-of-its-kind program” that launched last year.

“Equity has always been at the core of our cannabis legalization process. It’s why we expunged hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis charges and instituted the Cannabis Social Equity Loan Program. But I know that if we want to create a truly equitable cannabis industry in Illinois, we must give our business owners the resources they need to grow—both figuratively and literally,” said Pritzker. “That’s why we are launching this Direct Forgivable Loan Program to provide a much-needed jumpstart for social equity applicants who’ve faced hurdles in pursuit of capital funding. This $8.75 million will help our social equity licensees open their doors for business—a major step towards creating a prosperous cannabis industry here in Illinois.”

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