A real estate broker who writes a respected travel blog that focuses on pot. A Bronzeville marketing guru who wants to start the Marijuana Hall of Fame. And the co-founder of the nation’s largest black-owned cannabis company who owns pot shops around the country — but not in Illinois.
These are a few of the potentially hundreds or thousands of business people planning to apply for the next round of coveted licenses to sell marijuana in Illinois. Those 75 licenses are the first being offered to the so-called social equity candidates who will get a leg-up in the application process for living in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by past drug policies or have a pot-related offense on their records.
All three men are African American and live in South Side neighborhoods that qualify, and two have pot-related arrests.
The Sun-Times is following the men as they navigate the competitive process and attempt to stake their claim in Illinois’ nascent cannabis business. The applications, which are due Jan. 2, will be awarded by May, officials said.
Here are their stories:
For the past two years, Michael Malcolm has been keeping close tabs on the cannabis industry.
A real estate broker by trade, the 37-year-old has used his “Weed Travel Food” blog to create a bevy of pot-centric content in his spare time.
“I’ve been traveling to different legal states documenting how businesses run, both on the retail side and the wholesale side,” said the budding cannabis influencer, who has in turn earned sponsorships and partnered with a handful of pot firms.
Now Malcolm hopes to use that wealth of knowledge to strike out on his own. Though he ultimately intends to apply for a range of weed licenses in Illinois, he’s first setting his sights on obtaining a single dispensary permit through his company WTF Consulting.
Malcolm is seeking extra points on that initial application based on his residency in Morgan Park and a misdemeanor conviction for cannabis possession — an offense that resulted in court supervision and has continued to serve as an “embarrassment” in certain situations, like when the U.S. Transportation Security Administration denied his request for expedited travel clearance.
Should he win the dispensary license, Malcolm hopes to open up shop in an old Bronzeville furniture warehouse owned by his family.
Meanwhile, he’s been offering feedback to city officials while voicing concerns about companies that have “swindled” individuals looking for help with applications and others seeking to hire equity candidates simply to bolster their own chances of earning licenses.
Despite the potential pitfalls, Malcolm remains positive about his future in cannabis.
“This industry is just getting started,” he said. “And while I hope that I get my license, I also know that it’s not the end of the process even if I don’t.”
Vincent Norment’s path to pot was paved in pain.
Norment, now 57, is an Englewood native who attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff where he played football and later served in the U.S. Marines. By 2008, his knees were shot but he was wary of pharmaceutical drugs, so he started using CBD after being turned on to the nonpsychoactive compound commonly found in cannabis.
“It started working and I started feeling better,” recalls Norment, who now lives in Bronzeville and has two children.
With that realization, the longtime marketing and advertising specialist dove headlong into the world of weed and began consulting for medical pot clinics, including Midway Dispensary at 5648 S. Archer Ave. He previously built up a pair of athletic brands, including a line of headbands that sponsored a handful of NBA players.
Looking to start his own cannabis empire, Norment and his partners in Parkway Dispensary now plan to apply for multiple dispensary licenses in the current round, as well as infusion, transportation and craft cultivation licenses that will be doled out by July.
“The goal is to really be a leader in Illinois in the space,” he said.
Norment, who serves as his company’s chief marketing officer, is hoping his current address and a 2013 conviction for possessing drug paraphernalia will help him earn additional points as a social equity applicant.
Parkway is among 35 groups that were accepted into an incubator program launched by River North-based Cresco Labs. In addition to receiving assistance with applications, groups that are awarded licenses will also be offered support with site selection and compliance.
At the same time, Norment is working to open the Marijuana Hall of Fame, which he envisions as a pot-centric museum enshrining famous stoners such as Cheech & Chong and Snoop Dogg. After registering a trademark earlier this year, Norment is now looking to partner with heavy hitters in the weed industry while scouting locations in Las Vegas for the tourist-friendly attraction.
Dan Pettigrew has helped build Viola Brands into the bellwether for black ownership in the white-dominated weed industry.
The native South Sider co-founded the upstart pot company in 2011 with Al Harrington, a longtime family friend who was playing for the Denver Nuggets at the time. Prior to moving to Colorado to help launch the brand, Pettigrew was a serial entrepreneur who had worked in nightclub and concert promotions and managed various real estate properties.
Named for Harrington’s grandmother — who reluctantly turned to cannabis to manage glaucoma and diabetes and quickly found relief — Viola now cultivates cannabis in Colorado, Oregon, California and Michigan, where the company also has retail operations.
As Viola plans to expand into Arizona and Nevada, Pettigrew noted that establishing another foothold in Illinois’ nascent pot industry is vital.
“For me personally, it’s huge. I’d love for the opportunity to participate in the industry in my home town,” said Pettigrew, 46, who now lives in Hyde Park with his family. “We feel like as long as the playing field is level, we’ll be able to compete with anybody on the planet.”
Viola intends to apply for multiple dispensary permits in Illinois, as well as craft grow, transportation and processing licenses, Pettigrew said. Unlike the other applicants profiled by the Sun-Times, his social equity status will be determined only by his residency in a disproportionately affected area.
While Pettigrew views legal cannabis as a source of boundless opportunity for people of color, he remains a fierce advocate for minority ownership — not simply participation.
“The industry changed my life,” he said, “and I’d like more people that look like me to have a similar opportunity.”