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Social Equity Not Equal For Everyone Trying To Sell Recreational Marijuana

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The program is called Social Equity. It's designed to help people in blighted areas to get into the game and make some money when pot becomes legal in Illinois.

As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports, it's not coming through on that promise.

George Eskridge's family has been cutting hair in Englewood since the 1960s.

"Opportunity is the biggest thing," Eskridge said.

Now the Chicago shop owner thinks he can make a living from a different kind of buzz: selling legal recreational marijuana.

But he has his doubts.

"People like me are going to be left out," Eskridge said.

As Illinois' marijuana industry expands, the state has created the Social Equity program. It aims to help minority entrepreneurs in communities that have struggled with drugs and blight earn one of the 75 cannabis business licenses awarded next year.

"Social Equity means this is supposed to be for people like myself that's been disadvantaged due to the war on drugs within our community," Eskridge said.

Requirements include 51% ownership by residents who've lived in a community impacted by drug use. They may have been arrested for cannabis possession for up to 500 grams and will employ 10 or more workers who also meet those requirements.

Eskridge said there are loopholes for potential partners to take advantage of the opportunity.

"The guys who want to piggy back to get a license that already have big money, hire ten people like me and then come in on a Social Equity program and assume a license and knock me out the door cause they got the money," Eskridge said.

The application itself is barely eight pages long, but creating the supporting documents like business and security plans could add up to over 100 pages of information. And applicants benefit by showing their capital up front.

"The application itself can add up to $325,000 to the start of a new business as well as up to 20% of equity," said South Shore resident Rhonda Thompson.

She owns an appliance store and said that's what she's being offered by consultants, some from out of state willing to partner with her.

"There's quite a few people out there who are not minorities, who are trying to offer minorities a front position," Thompson said.

"Come on. Hell no it ain't fair," Eskridge said.

At the end of the day, it's a question of trust. And trust, for people who put their faith in programs that were supposed to turn around their blighted communities, is hard to come by.

Applications can be submitted by Jan. 2 with licenses to be awarded by May.

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