When medical marijuana sales began in Illinois in 2014, cannabis firms typically chose unobtrusive buildings, sometimes hidden away in industrial parks, to sell the controversial product.
Almost 10 years later and with recreation weed now legal in the state, cannabis has become big business. Dispensaries are moving from the out-of-the-way buildings where they started into some of the hottest retail corners in both city and suburbs. National companies have swept in to buy local dispensaries, fueling further expansion and helping create multistate operators worth billions.
But amid all the moneymaking, one group is being shut out.
The state held lotteries last summer to award marijuana retail store licenses to “social equity applicants,” business owners from communities or families hurt by the war on drugs. But a judge froze the program after several losing applicants sued, leaving winning applicants in limbo as the rest of the marijuana industry took off. A judge recently authorized the state to hold a corrective lottery for the applicants that filed lawsuits.
“It’s just been disappointing to sit on the sidelines and watch the current operators make hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Ambrose Jackson, a former hospital administrator who won one of the social equity licenses before the program was frozen.