FILE – In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Like in other states before it, advocates of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Illinois want the law to look backward as well as forward. It conscientiously attempts to ensure that those who profit from growing and selling the weed have substantial representation from the mostly impoverished neighborhoods nailed the hardest by decades of drug crackdowns. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — When lawmakers crafted the law legalizing marijuana in Illinois, they tried to make sure it would right what many see as past wrongs linked to the drug.
In addition to expunging hundreds of thousands of criminal records for marijuana arrests and convictions, the law’s architects added provisions meant to benefit communities that have been the most adversely affected by law enforcement’s efforts to combat the drug.
The so-called social equity provisions are expected to help black applicants, in particular, as blacks are nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana, the American Civil Liberties Union found. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, also established ways for qualified applicants to pay lower licensing fees and get business loans and technical assistance. And it earmarked part of marijuana sales revenue for neighborhood development grants.
“On the surface, its tone and what it’s trying to do is ahead of any state that’s done this. They’re really setting off in the right way,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a board member of Minority Cannabis Business Association, which has composed model laws outlining social equity programs. He added that follow-through will be key: “We can’t just set this in motion and set it free.”
Companies that apply for a license to sell marijuana will be judged on a 250-point scale, and those that qualify as social equity applicants will get a 50-point bump.
There are three ways to qualify. First, the organization applying must be majority-owned by a person who has lived at least five of the past 10 years in an impoverished area where there have been higher-than-average numbers of marijuana arrests. Second, the majority owner or a family member must have an arrest or conviction of a marijuana offense eligible for expungement. Finally, for a company with at least 10 employees, more than half must qualify in one of the first two ways.
Illinois is the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Cannabis sales could generate $250 million for the state by 2022 and $375 million in 2024, according to the state Revenue Department. Campaigning on legalization last year, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker predicted the industry could eventually bring in up to $1 billion in annual revenue.
Other states that legalized pot established equity programs, but none has distinguished itself yet. Massachusetts has one, but all but two of its 184 licenses to sell pot were issued to white operators. California created a $10 million fund to go toward helping social equity applicants finance marijuana startups, but critics derided the amount as paltry.
No one knows how many Illinois applicants will pursue social equity licenses. There was no intention to set a quota, said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, one of two Chicago Democrats who led efforts to write Illinois’ law. But after May 1, when licenses from the first pool of equity applicants will be awarded, licensing will pause to allow for an independent review of social equity participation.
Information for this article was contributed by Jennifer Farrar of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/03/2019
Print Headline: Illinois hopes marijuana law will provide equity for sellers