Activists Explain What True Cannabis Equity Looks Like for People of Color

By Shani Saxon Aug 11, 2021

Marijuana equity advocates saw it as an important first step when the Illinois Senate in May passed a bill aimed at creating new licenses and lotteries for marijuana dispensary licenses. The goal of House Bill 1443, according to Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), the bill’s Senate sponsor, is to “create a diverse cannabis industry with increased opportunities for social equity applicants.” Some activists, however, believe there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to create true equity, WTTW reports.


Richard Wallace, founder and executive director of nonprofit Equity and Transformation Chicago, which fights for social and economic equity for Black workers in informal work, told the local news outlet that true cannabis equity goes far beyond seeing Black Illinoisans secure a financial stake in the cannabis industry. It also means fighting for reparations for the devastating war on drugs.


“We are currently organizing two campaigns that I think answer some of the questions that are still not been answered,” Wallace told WTTW. “One of them is a guaranteed income pilot project for system-impacted folks. Really to try to predict what are some ways that we can answer the question of how we get direct cash payments to survivors of the war on drugs.”


“We need to ensure that we center [survivors of the war on drugs] in our policy efforts, and that means acknowledging the gross violations of human rights that occurred during the war on drugs,” he added. “That means demanding direct cash payment to those who are affected by the war on drugs. And it’s also a commitment to guarantee that the harm won’t occur by reviewing the policies that created the crisis in the first place.”


The rollout of House Bill 1443 hasn’t exactly been smooth, and Chicago State University cannabis educator Deborah Dillon told WTTW that the legislation presents an entirely new set of problems. According to Capitol News Illinois, “After just 21 of more than 900 applicants were deemed eligible to participate in a lottery for the 75 licenses, legislative backlash from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and Latino Caucus drove [Governor Pritzker’s] administration to pause the lottery and offer the chance for firms who failed to reach the threshold to re-submit their application.”


Dillon further explained to WTTW, “I think that the process as it was originally designed, where they were going to be two lotteries — one for the veteran-led teams and one for the non-veteran led teams — was going to be the perfect solution.” “However, as a result of HB1443 it seems that the veteran-led teams have three bites at the apple as opposed to just two since they’ve added a third lottery.”


According to Dillon, it’s imperative to offer a path forward for those damaged by cannabis convictions. “I want the public to keep in mind that 500,000 cannabis-only arrest felons, their arrest records were expunged, but there was no provision in HB 1443 that would provide any type of training, any type of job development, any type of assistance to those 500,000 people who were arrested for low-level plan of cannabis possession. I think that that’s reprehensible,” she told the news outlet.


“Democracy demands rigor and it has to be an additive process,” Wallace added. “HB 1438 provided a strong foundation. I think what we have to do now is really think about where are the issue areas and then [take steps to repair them].”