5 Critical Problems With Illinois’ “Social Equity” in Cannabis
The conversations around social equity have become so popular, they are now rampant across every conversation, round table, panel, and marketing materials found. Everyone seems to be talking about it, but few are actually leading the way through action. What is social equity?
For the last couple of years, the great state of Illinois has been trying to establish the definition of social equity and touting one of the most progressive and advanced efforts in the country to promote it. How? Through a special round of licensing that was to be specifically designated for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The spirit of the law intended to help
1. People from a social justice perspective, who had previously faced an arrest / conviction for cannabis related crimes
2. People who have had direct family members arrested / convicted for cannabis related crimes
3. People who live in areas that have long been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs
As the efforts have continued moving forward, people around the state, and country, have been watching Illinois closely to see if they would meet on their promise to do what no other state has been able to do before.
Fast forward to the end of September, over four months from the expected date of May, when social equity dispensaries were supposed to be awarded, people quickly came to realize that the potential winners of those dispensary licenses did not look so equitable after all.
In a series of events that followed – the cannabis community came together with State Representatives to bring forward concerns to the administration about the glaring problems and impact the social equity program would have on the people it was intending to help. Some of these issues included but were not limited to:
1. Requiring applicants to obtain a perfect score in order to enter the lottery
2. Requiring applicants to have a military veteran on their team to obtain maximum points
3. Inconsistent deficiencies on applications and lack of notifications from the State
Most recently – the State’s administration sent out a press release, outlining steps that would be explored to move the program forward and award the pending licenses that are up for grabs. In the press release, the administration indicated it would allow applicants to receive deficiency letters, which would then provide the opportunity to fix their applications and obtain a rescoring.
Those who obtained a perfect score thereon, would be able to participate in the lottery, thus expanding the amount of participants who would have a chance to operate a coveted social equity dispensary license.
These licenses are worth somewhere to the tune of 5-8 million dollars pre-revenue, based on a number of factors such as location and potential market opportunity.
The administration’s proposed steps will allow for more people to have the chance to enter the lottery, and make changes in future rounds to no longer make the veteran status a mandated requirement. In future rounds, it will also allow for a cutoff score so that more participants can obtain a chance to win a license.
Regardless of the efforts, the “partial do-over” does not appear to go far enough in allowing social equity applicants the opportunity to enter the lottery, if they did not already have a veteran status secured. The result of a partial solution could end up leaving social equity applicants right back where they started.
In a discussion The Medical Cannabis Community will have with State Representatives who are championing this cause on behalf of social equity applicants, we’ll work to find out what this means for people who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
In the meantime, what can we do as a community to better define “social equity”, and allow for a more equitable process in the law that mitigates gaming or influence from capital and politics?
Here are some ideas from the community.
1. Get Rid of Lotteries
Who do lotteries really help? The people who had their lives destroyed by the war on drugs, or the state who wants to avoid inevitable lawsuits? As proven and experienced, lotteries do not equate to social equity since better capitalized applicants can stack the application process in their favor by submitting the maximum amount of applications allowed which would in effect inprove their odds of probability.
2. Remove Ability to Hire for Social Equity Status
Another complaint by members of the community pointed to the fact that companies can simply hire people who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, for dead-end, minimum wage jobs, which would then allow the entire company to qualify for social equity status. Critics of this piece in the law compared it to modernized slavery.
3. Focus on the Key Component of Being Disproportionately Impacted By the War on Drugs
As a community, we will never achieve progress in conversation when people can’t agree on what is right or what is true. For those who are beneficiaries to maintaining the status quo, this is a good thing. Why? Because while people scramble to get on the same page, the benefactors continue to benefit from the very system that people can’t agree on how to fix.
So while people fight about black, white and brown issues that are the perceived problem, the true problem is that people who have actually had their lives disrupted by the war on drugs are being left out of the conversation.
4. Create Social Equity Oversight Committees
With no oversight, there are no guarantees or processes to ensure true social equity takes place. Worse, there is no body of checks and balances to help define what the definition of true equity is, and who should qualify for such status. A committee can consist of members who represent the demographic that programs aim to help, similar to the committees and advisory boards that exist for medical and adult use programs.
These committees can help identify true social equity applicants, and ensure that the social equity programs stand true to their goal and intentions.
5. Create Cut Off Score Thresholds in Licensing Processes
In many application processes for dispensaries and cultivation centers, it is unheard of to require a perfect score on an application in order to obtain a license to dispense or grow. Yet, in Illinois, that’s exactly what happened with licenses that were supposed to be designated for social equity applicants. This is among the first times to ever hear about any program requiring the people it is supposed to be helping, to jump through every single hoop perfectly.
As an insult to injury, even those with a perfect score, will still not be able to qualify to enter the lottery, because the way the law is written, only Veterans who own 51%, who are social equity, who get perfect scores will be able to participate. This is due to the importance that was placed on the Veteran points, which inadvertently caused the entire program and its winners to be predicated on the veteran status, vs that of social equity. Cut Off scores prevent issues like this from ever happening.
Have ideas to contribute on how to better define, and improve efforts for social equity? We want to hear them.
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