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After lengthy delays, minority businesses see glimmer of hope in surging Illinois recreational marijuana industry

Minority entrepreneurs see light at the end of the tunnel in journey to join Illinois pot industry
Minority entrepreneurs see light at the end of the tunnel in journey to join Illinois pot industry 03:02

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Recreational marijuana sales continue to break records in Illinois, with more than 2 million products sold last month, and more than $100 million in sales.

This as minority-owned marijuana dispensaries are finally one step closer to becoming a reality in Illinois. They are set to more than double the current number of pot shops statewide, all while the state and existing medical marijuana owners have already raked in serious money, with billions in sales since 2020.

CBS 2's Tara Molina has tracked the legalization from the beginning, and spoke to people who have been trying to break into the industry for years, all while the state and existing marijuana companies have raked in some serious money, with more than $2 billion in sales since 2020. While they're happy the state is inching forward with the plan to expand marijuana licenses, it's not over yet.

RELATED: Gov. Pritzker Signs Law To Get Ball Rolling After Continued Delays In Licenses For Minority Marijuana Entrepreneurs

Akele Parnell, who won one of the new dispensary licenses from the state, never imagined the process would take this long after recreational marijuana was made legal in Illinois in 2020.

"Absolutely not. I think at the most, we thought maybe it would be a couple months' delay," he said.

Instead, it ended up being a 2 ½ year waiting game for those looking to break into the state's marijuana industry.

"Black and Brown entrepreneurs are just sitting on the sidelines watching," he said.

RELATED: 'This Is Just The Beginning': Minority Owned Businesses Await The Opening Of The Dispensary Lottery

Parnell is one of 185 who have been anxiously waiting on the state to release the licenses won in a state lottery last year, so they can finally open a Chicago cannabis dispensary.

"We applied back in 2019 for dispensary licenses. Those were supposed to have gone out in the spring of 2020, but here it is spring of 2022, and we may or may not get licenses during the summer," he said.

Existing medical marijuana operators were able to open recreational dispensaries right away in 2020, but the wait has dragged on for those 185 others.

RELATED: Cannabis sales are raking in billions in Illinois, but Black and Brown entrepreneurs are still in limbo with license delays

With the court battle that put a stay on those licenses now over, the state just released detailed instructions, plans, and next steps for future operators like Parnell, who expects to have a license in hand on or before July 22.

After riding a painfully expensive roller coaster for more than two years, he said it's "definitely a reason for cautious optimism."

It's also been a rough ride for fellow dispensary license winner Frank Cowan, as the state inches forward with the new licenses.

"Come on, is this ever gonna end? You feel like the world is against you, and your back is against the wall. And now we can see some light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "Once I have a license in hand, I think I'm going to be super excited."

RELATED: With license delays persisting and Illinois legislative session ending, situation called 'dire' for some marijuana entrepreneurs

Those sentiments were echoed by groups that have been fighting for inclusion and a diversified industry since day one here in Illinois.

"This is going to be a make or break summer," said Peter Contos, deputy director of Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition

Contos said, even though the state is moving forward, we aren't out of the woods yet.

"The main message is: it's not over yet. ... There's always something else waiting in the wings. Oh it's another lawsuit or another stay. Or the state has to do another lottery process. Or you have to submit additional information. There's always another step," he said.
"There's still a lot, a lot, a lot of work to do, but it will be a big day for a lot of groups."

With new hold-ups and possible lawsuits lingering on other state licenses, we will continue to track that. 

RELATED: 'Extremely frustrating': On 4/20, many minority marijuana businesses have yet to open

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