By Elias Marat
As Illinois readies itself for the impending legalization of recreational cannabis, which is set to take effect next year, state regulators have awarded the very first licenses to five medical marijuana dispensaries.
The five shops, which are dispersed throughout the state, will be allowed to sell limited quantities of recreational marijuana products to adults over the age of 21 beginning January 1, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Four of the five licensees are owned by Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based company whose website describes its mission as providing “safe, effective and therapeutic medical cannabis nationwide by operating world class cultivation facilities and customer-first retail experiences.” The company also owns a 50 percent stake in the fifth shop.
Three of the shops are located in the suburbs of Chicago, while two are in central and southern Illinois.
Dozens more stores are expected to receive licenses in the coming weeks, and the state’s 55 existing medical marijuana dispensaries have all applied for the right to distribute recreational cannabis products.
As was the case in other states that have opened the door to the sale of recreational cannabis, including California, individual municipalities will have the ability to ban retail sales. Chicago, however, is expected to remain open.
Industry watchers anticipate that the recreational cannabis market could rake in up to $2.5 billion in sales when the market reaches begins to bloom, according to MJ Business Daily.
In addition to opening doors for the lucrative cannabis market, the recreational marijuana legalization law includes a widely-hailed social justice program meant to undo the damage done against those who have run afoul of the state’s past prohibitionist policies, especially those belonging to low-income communities of color.
Applicants who fall under the social equity provisions will have access to additional points and potential support from the state including training assistance, mentoring, low-interest loans and grants.
In a June tweet, Governor J.B. Pritzker said:
We’re … creating a $30 million low-interest loan program to create opportunity for entrepreneurs in the communities that deserve it the most (from the war on drugs).
Cannabis has been subject to national prohibitionist laws since 1937, when the plant largely demonized and associated with Mexican immigrants amid rising racist and nativist attitudes supported by federal and local authorities and media outlets. During the 1970s, marijuana was depicted by authorities as a drug serving no medicinal purpose that was simply abused by delinquents seeking to get high.
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use, and over 34 states have since done the same. Illinois’ recent passage of the legalization law enlists the state alongside ten other states and Washington, D.C. that have freed the herb almost entirely for recreational purposes. 18 states have also decriminalized the plant, which still remains illegal under federal law.
A 2018 report by the Drug Policy Alliance found that even in states where marijuana had been legalized, people of color still faced a far greater rate of arrests on charges of marijuana possession than did their white counterparts.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of U.S. residents, including 74 percent of millennials, favor an end to the prohibition of cannabis.
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