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Executive Order Delaying Marijuana Licenses Has Social Equity Applicants Worried About Being Shut Out

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (CBS) -- More than 80 new marijuana licenses would have been announced Wednesday, but an executive order issued by Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday delayed them.

Now, those licenses meant to expand and diversify the industry could actually be forcing social equity applicants out.

CBS 2's Tara Molina talked to one of those applicants, who said they need an answer from the state soon.

Nakisha Hobbs and her partners have been making plans for months, waiting to see if they're awarded a craft growers license by the state.

They are plans that are getting more expensive every day those licenses are delayed.

"I'm a member of a team of three women of color who are starting a craft grow facility, or hope to start a craft grow facility," Hobbs said.

Hobbs, a native of North Lawndale and lifelong West Side resident, is looking at the property she and those partners have already invested thousands in.

"We put down $50,000, and $25,000 is nonrefundable," she said.

Hobbs said now, they'll have to pay $5,000 a month just to stay under contract, through September, when they don't even know if they're getting a license from the state yet.

"If we aren't awarded or we don't know what is going on by September 30, regardless of the fact we've invested all this time energy and money into this project, we stand a chance of losing this property," she said.

Losing the property, of course, is a major concern.

"I do wish there was some definitiveness to when the announcement will be made, so we can go back to the owner and say: 'Hey, we are in unprecedented times. Is this something you're willing to negotiate?'" Hobbs said.

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State laws required craft grower applicants, like Hobbs, to secure the property they would use, and zoning approval, in advance.

But they expected to learn if they'd been awarded the license Wednesday, not months from now.

"I'm hopeful that clarity will come," Hobbs said.

Through an executive order Monday, citing COVID-19, Gov. Pritzker delayed the announcement of licenses, like that of Hobbs and her partners, indefinitely. They are the first round of licenses available for those who aren't already involved in the industry through medical marijuana, with 40 craft grow licenses, 40 infuser licenses, and an unlimited number of transport licenses available.

State officials said they were prioritizing social equity applicants, like Hobbs, as part of the state's commitment to diversify its existing, and predominantly white, industry.

"I do want folks to know that the uncertainty of when the licenses will be awarded or announced makes it very difficult for people on the ground who for the first time have the opportunity to enter into the industry," Hobbs said.

But with an indefinite delay, when they started this process in January and expected an answer on Wednesday, Hobbs said, "There has to be a sense of urgency in getting this process wrapped up."

Hobbs said she and her partners are in a really tough position, and they're not alone.

"I recognize this is a difficult process for myself and my business partners," she said. "My heart actually truly goes out to those less fortunate than I am who have invested their life savings and it's up in the air."

According to Pritzker's executive order, the Illinois Department of Agriculture will announce the licenses. Molina talked to a representative of that office on Wednesday, and there's no update on when licenses will be announced.

"I'm wondering if there are any solutions the state could put into place, specifically around social equity applicants, who probably are in positions where they are going to lose the property they've identified, if there is a way for the state to invest in those applicants, even if it's short term, as a way for them to hold onto the properties they've secured," Hobbs said.

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We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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