Featuring staff from the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition
Q: What is the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition? Who is welcome in the coalition?
A: The Coalition is a grassroots nonprofit organization founded in Chicago in 2019, dedicated to ensuring that cannabis legalization in Illinois repairs the harms from the war on drugs, and provides equity and opportunity to those most impacted. We welcome all people who are committed to this mission.
Q: With so many groups out there focused on cannabis issues, why form the Coalition in 2019? What other groups/organizations do you work with regularly?
A: This group was formed out of a need for representation at the community level. Throughout town hall meetings about legalization hosted by ILGA members, and during legislative session in 2019, it was apparent to community members that there wasn’t transparency with the process, and that if the community wanted to be successful, we needed to organize ourselves. That resulted in more than 100 people coming to Springfield for a lobby day in May 2019. Post-legalization, it was clear to us that ongoing accountability was necessary, as was community programming, and that inspired us to form the nonprofit organization.
We work with many partners from many different backgrounds, including Legal Aid Chicago, New Leaf Illinois, Chicago Votes, Code For Chicago, Chicago NORML, Equity And Transformation, along with partners nationally like The Hood Incubator and Marijuana Justice-Virginia who are leading this fight in other cities.
Q: From your perspective, did the equity licenses provide the intended opportunities for longtime entrepreneurs in the cannabis space to enter the legal market?
A: No. As we approach the end of the second full year of legalization, licenses are still not in the hands of those entrepreneurs. And while equity applicants wait indefinitely for licenses, existing cannabis businesses have continued strengthening their positions in the market.
Q: What is a CBA (Community Benefits Agreement), and why are these important to the Coalition?
A: A Community Benefits Agreement is a contract between a business/developer and community-based organizations representing community interests. The agreement spells out the benefits the community will receive in return for supporting the developer’s project in their neighborhood. This often happens in housing developments, and the Obama Center CBA is a good example of one.
We launched the #CannabisCBA campaign in 2020 because the only businesses opening at the time (and the only ones still open) were incumbent dispensary owners, many of whom were multistate operators.
To hold those operators to a higher standard of corporate social responsibility, and to ensure their businesses were supporting the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, we engaged every company seeking zoning in Chicago in 2020 with a CBA.
We worked with the Chicago Lawyers Committee to draft it, and the CBA includes requirements like hiring a percentage of employees from Disproportionately Impacted Areas, paying employees true living wages, providing professional development opportunities to staff, partnering with community organizations for programming, and much more.
Two companies signed it, and one opened, which is the first Cannabis CBA dispensary in the nation at Nature’s Care-West Loop.
Q: Now that some equity licenses have been awarded, are there new initiatives you are focusing on?
A: When it comes to the licenses, we are working to ensure those awardees have what they need to be successful. We’re connecting entrepreneurs to minority resource providers and contractors to support them in building their businesses.
With many new businesses coming online, including businesses that are social equity in name only, we are expanding our CBA campaign by launching a tool kit to help communities organize these across the state. We want communities to have the tools to hold cannabis businesses accountable to their communities, and hope this tool kit can be a resource to do that.
We’re leading policy research into new license types that will increase opportunities for social equity applicants to own businesses, and education programs focused on teaching young people the truth about cannabis and the war on drugs, along with ending permanent punishments for people with records.
We are continuing to research and seek accountability for local and state funding, to ensure the R3 Program and other community funding programs are meeting their intended goals.
We continue to educate community members about their legal rights and how to protect them, and much more.
Q: What calls to action may we include to help you be successful in your work?
A: If you need expungement support, please e-mail CEICexpungement@gmail.com and we can support you in getting that process started. People who want to utilize our services, including know-your-rights education, organizing a community benefits agreement, learning how to be an advocate, etc., can e-mail us at CannabisEquityIL@gmail.com to access services and to ask questions, or DM us @CannaEquityIL on social media. People who want to support the Coalition and our community work can make a donation at https://bit.ly/DonateCEIC. People can also e-mail us if they’d like to get involved in working with our programs. The Coalition is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and welcomes all the community support we can get.
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