According to a press release issued yesterday, the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition (Twitter: @cannaequityil) signed what is believed to be a first-in-the-nation Community Benefits Agreement with a cannabis operator attempting to open a new dispensary in Chicago. The operator, Nature’s Care Company, is currently seeking approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the City of Chicago, which has the power to grant a special use permit that is required to open a state-licensed cannabis business. By signing the agreement—which is “designed to ensure that the economic success of the dispensary is linked with economic benefits for the communities most disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs”—Nature’s Care Company has committed to the following key terms:

  • Provide 100% living wage jobs for disproportionately impacted individuals
  • Hire 75% of employees from disproportionately impacted areas (“DIAs”) within two years
  • Donate 10% of net profits of the dispensary to community organizations working in DIAs
  • Contract 10% of products and services from minority and social equity businesses
  • Create a training and career development program for employees
  • Host “know-your-rights” educational events and participate in National Expungement Week

Signing the Community Benefits Agreement is Nature’s Care Company’s way of saying that it “won’t just pay lip service” to the social equity goals of the Illinois adult-use cannabis program, according to Charles Amadin, General Manager of Nature’s Care Company, which is owned by Acreage Holdings in New York.

For its part, the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition has agreed to appear at a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing this Friday and express support for Nature’s Care Company’s application based on its “concrete commitment to racial equity,” as described by Akele Parnell of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which is representing the coalition. Community input is usually afforded significant consideration in the zoning process.

The promise of social equity is a critical piece of the Illinois adult-use cannabis program, and this development demonstrates one of the ways that communities intend to ensure that the cannabis industry makes good on that promise. We anticipate that other companies, communities, and states will follow the example of Illinois in one form or another.