Infighting among a group of minority pot shop applicants drafting legislation to resolve the state’s troubled licensing rollout came to a head Tuesday when a downtown news conference effectively devolved into a sparring match.
The ad hoc coalition of social equity applicants — a designation created to diversify the state’s white-dominated weed industry — has splintered into two factions pushing dueling proposals and battling over specifics.
The two groups want to double the number of new dispensary licenses from 75 to 150. And they agree that a second lottery should be created to issue those additional permits to existing applicants that don’t qualify for the initial, long-delayed lottery. That drawing was held up last year after a series of lawsuits were filed when applicants raised issues with the grading process.
During Tuesday’s news conference in front of the Thompson Center, Rickey Hendon, a former state senator and current dispensary applicant, claimed the faction of social equity applicants he’s leading is “being snowballed by people who are supposed to be activists helping us fix this cannabis regulation mess.”
His plan would limit the number of chances each group gets in the proposed second lottery and do away with a provision he refers to as “the slave master clause,” which allows applicants to earn social equity status simply by promising to hire individuals who qualify.
“This is a business creation program, not a jobs creation program,” said Hendon, who was flanked by fellow applicants, activists and former mayoral candidates Tio Hardiman and Bob Fioretti. “And for any Black group to stand up for the slave master clause, I wish Harriet Tubman would come back, bop them upside the head and carry their Black a— across the Mississippi.”
Edie Moore, the executive director of the influential Chicago chapter of the National Organization of Marijuana Laws, is heading another faction pushing a separate proposal. After Hendon took shots at Moore’s group and its plan, she and another applicant briefly interrupted the news conference to rebut his claims.
Moore’s proposal is backed by her organization, Cannabis Equity Illinois and six minority-led applicant groups, two of which she’s partnered in. All six of those groups have already qualified for the delayed lottery.
After the news conference, Moore said she was “discouraged” that Hendon made a spectacle of their disagreements.
Given that the proposed second lottery would include only existing applicants, Moore believes Hendon is attempting to move the goal posts and she worries his proposals could prompt more lawsuits. Moore noted that she also doesn’t support the hiring provision and is drafting legislation to remove the qualifier in future licensing rounds.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat who previously called the state’s social equity efforts an “epic failure,” has committed to introducing a bill that creates another lottery and relies on input from the social equity applicants.
During last week’s State of the State and budget address, Gov. J.B. Pritzker proclaimed that “finally authorizing the overdue second cannabis licensing lottery” is among the state’s “key priorities.” But Moore fears that Hendon publicizing their differences could derail “the real work” of passing a bill.
“Everybody already knows that we’re here for f—ing equity. Everybody already knows that it’s inequitable. … What people don’t know is how the f— it gets done,” she said.
Those inequities were further evidenced in a state-issued report that was first detailed Monday by the local cannabis publication Grown In.
Through last June, the first six months weed was fully legalized statewide, less than 2% of the state’s dispensary owners were Black or Latino, according to the report. Moore and another social equity advocate have previously said that none of them hold a majority stake.
The state’s plans to issue new cannabis licenses prioritized to social equity applicants was upended last September when officials announced that just 21 groups qualified for the delayed lottery for 75 outstanding licenses. After some applicants filed suit, Pritzker announced a plan to allow groups that didn’t qualify to challenge their grades and have their applications re-scored.
After months of delay, officials initiated that supplementary process last week by sending applicants notices identifying deficiencies in their applications.