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This 4/20, State Delays Are Still Holding Up Minority-Owned Marijuana Businesses After More Than A Year

CHICAGO (CBS) -- This April 20, the unofficial holiday celebrating marijuana, we're learning the State of Illinois is smashing recreational sales records again with $109 million in sales last month.

But CBS 2's Tara Molina learned as the state continues to rake in millions, not one minority-owned pot business has opened up shop yet because of state delays.

The state is running almost a year behind on those new licenses, and those delays continue – with the state's social equity plan still a work in progress more than a year into legalization.

Meanwhile, dispensaries in areas like River North generated hundreds of millions in sales for the state.

Illinois has puffed past $1 billion in total sales since legalizing pot in January 2020. Even through the pandemic, as other industries suffered, dispensaries have opened their doors and weed sales have continued to grow and break records.

The State of Illinois has cashed in on pot, raking in more than $100 million in taxes and fees. And the same companies are getting richer - medical marijuana companies got the first go at recreational weed and have continued to profit.

"All white, well-connected, and wealthy men who are dominating this industry, and continue to dominate this industry," said Natascha Neptune.

Neptune leads the Social Equity Empowerment Network, or S.E.E.N., focused on diversifying the industry. The organization released a statement this 4/20.

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"There are so many promises that have been thrown around, like, 'Oh, we want Black owners,' and all sorts of stuff -- and yet we are still here," she said.

The wait continues for a chance to sit at the table. After almost a year of delays, Illinois still has not awarded its 75 new dispensary licenses, or its craft grow licenses - meant to open the door for social equity applicants, or minority owners in communities most hurt by the war on drugs.

"The longer we wait, the longer it takes," said Kiana Hughes.

Hughes represents Chicago NORML, a group of cannabis advocates also focused on a more equitable industry here. She joined Neptune in saying she hopes today, we are one step closer to the goal.

"We've got to get this right," Hughes said. "We've got to get this right now."

We asked Gov. JB Pritzker's office about that, and when the delayed licenses will finally be announced. A spokesperson for his office gave us a non-answer to that question, sending a statement on their commitment to issue licenses and develop a fair, equitable industry:

"The Pritzker administration remains committed to issuing licenses and developing an adult-use cannabis industry in a fair, equitable manner and we continue to work with stakeholders, applicants, and the General Assembly to achieve that goal. Craft grow, infuser and transporter license applications are being reviewed. The Department will make a public announcement when licenses are awarded."

The state also sent cannabis sales figures, revenue figures, and the most recent update on licensing.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office also issued a statement expressing concern about the licensing delays:

"The Mayor's Office is concerned about the delay in licensing, and we remain ready to speedily move social equity applicants through the approval process once they have been licensed by the State."

Molina also checked in several times Tuesday with the state's Department of Agriculture, which will announce the new licenses once they are awarded. She is told they are still reviewing applications, with no timeframe on when they will make an announcement.


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