Chicago Cannabis Firm Seeks to Build New Businesses Based on Extended Family Participation

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40 Acres and a Mule, LLC, an extended family group, has applied for multiple Illinois cannabis dispensary licenses under the state's social equity-based merit application process.

This collective effort made sure that we could identify the best locations, get support from local officials, secure the best available professional services and draft very competitive cannabis applications.

A Civil War-era program intended to improve the lives of newly-emancipated slaves is getting a 21st Century rebirth as a new social equity program for awarding cannabis industry licenses to minorities in Illinois. One firm that has applied for the new licenses is 40 Acres and a Mule, LLC, a Chicago-based group comprised of close friends and extended family of approximately 20 adult applicants.

Administered by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), the new program will use a social equity formula to award 75 new retail marijuana dispensary licenses. The awards will go to racially disadvantaged groups who live in areas with high rates of cannabis-related arrests, convictions and incarcerations. The social equity component also covers areas suffering from high poverty and unemployment. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the application deadline was extended from March 16th to April 30th, with licenses scheduled to be issued by July 1, 2020.

Members of 40 Acres and a Mule submitted their applications by the original deadline yet understand the reason for the extension. “We began the application process in November 2019 and even though a delay means we have to wait longer to implement our holistic practice into the community, we consider it a worthwhile delay,” stated group member Gregory Owens.

Many of the group constituents have lived in Illinois for more than five generations and come from professional backgrounds ranging from medicine and law to education, public safety and technology. What makes the company different is its family focus and collective effort to both help each of its members apply for the licenses individually and then operate new businesses once the licenses are awarded.

“We knew none of us individually had the resources to compete. Consequently, we decided to pool our financial and human resources, and collective professional expertise to help each individual group apply for their own separate licenses,” said LaRicia Nelson, a family member and one of the applicants. “This collective effort made sure that we could identify the best locations, get support from local officials, secure the best available professional services and draft very competitive applications.”

To date, all medical and retail dispensaries in Illinois are owned by whites, primarily white men. The inequity of this distribution is particularly stark in the metro Chicago area with a population that is 60 percent comprised of black and brown people.

“If anyone in our family is awarded a license, we will use all our individual and collective talents for the mutual benefit of any of us awarded a license. We have a common family goal. Every family in Illinois, particularly those families of color, should try to do the same,” said Owens.

The 40 Acres and a Mule firm got its name from a program proposed in 1865 to re-distribute 400,000 acres of land formerly owned by Southern plantation owners to newly-freed slaves. The program’s intent was to offer people of color equity land ownership and a new way to make a living in agriculture. It was one of many failed economic and social promises made to Afro-Americans after the Civil War and was the first and last form of reparations offered to freed slaves.

Owens added, “We hope to be a model for other businesses in our community that want to become family-owned and operated. We also want to rectify a great injustice done to native Afro-Americans after the Civil War ended over 155 years ago. This is why we want to become the 21st century success story that reverses the failed promise of 40 Acres and a Mule.”

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Neko Catanzaro