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Some Social Equity Applicants Say Their Own Money Is On The Line As Marijuana Licenses Are Delayed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They did everything right – secured a space, put the money up, and now they're waiting for a marijuana license.

But six months later, they have heard nothing from the state.

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported, some social equity applicants say they can't hold on much longer.

After nearly five months of state delays and thousands invested, Nakisha Hobbs and her partners said if the state doesn't make a decision soon, their budget will decide for them.

"We are a collective of three Black women," Hobbs said.

An educator who was born and raised on the city's West Side, Hobbs knows Chicago.

"I currently live in the North Lawndale community," she said.

When the state legalized weed, with an emphasis on social justice, Hobbs knew she wanted to get involved.

"I do see it as a real opportunity to generate income, to right some of the wrongs of history, and to be a resource to the community that I love," she said.

Hobbs applied for a dispensary license and missed a perfect score that would qualify them for the lottery, by eight points. The maximum score is 252 points, and license seekers that did not receive that perfect score were sent supplemental deficiency notices and score sheets as to why.

Hobbs' group missed five points because they don't have a social equity applicant, who is also a veteran, owning 51 percent of the business. Hobbs said all of the applicants with perfect scores do.

One of Hobbs' partners is a veteran, but with a three-way partnership, she doesn't own 51 percent.

"We missed basically the veterans' points. In order to gain those points, your company has to be 51 percent controlled by a veteran who also is a social equity applicant," Hobbs said. "I think it's a good show that the state is trying to make this as equitable as possible, but you can't go back and fix ownership structure, so the 5 points we missed on veterans status, anyone who missed those points, still won't make that cut off of a perfect score."

But as they wait, Hobbs noted that she and her partners aren't backed by a major company. It's their money on the line right now as they wait on the state.


"The application that has been delayed is the craft grow application, which is actually the application that comes with an upfront financial burden," Hobbs said.

In their case, it was $60,000 cash.

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

So they have been paying on a building, even though they expected to learn if they'd been awarded their license months ago.

Now, they could end up on the line for thousands more, when they don't even know if they're getting a license or when the state will announce them.

"Trying to scrape together just to hold onto the property," Hobbs said.

We asked Gov. JB Pritzker about that. He blamed the delays on the pandemic.

"Nobody expected COVID-19 to interrupt this process," Pritzker said.

The governor said the state is working to expedite the process, but he didn't answer our question with specifics about when licenses will be announced.

"The expectation here is that we will be able to get this done this fall," Pritzker said.

Pritzker's office also said in a statement: "Ensuring the state's cannabis industry is equitable and available to all Illinoisans, regardless of background, is the administration's top priority. KPMG is in the final stages of completing the scoring process for submitted applications. The Department of Agriculture will continue to provide public updates regarding the issuance of craft grow, infuser, and transportation licenses."

What Hobbs hopes that Pritzker and everyone at the state level understands is that "it's actually becoming a financial burden for the folks that this administration is really trying to allow into the process."

Molina followed up with the Department of Agriculture, the state agency responsible for announcing those licenses. There were no specifics.

A department representative said an announcement is coming in the coming weeks.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

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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