These pot shop hopefuls could see their dreams come true — but want similar applicants to get a fair shot, too
“I want this more than anything and I hope that I get this,” said Britteney Kapri, who wants to open marijuana dispensaries under the brand name Baked. “But I don’t want it at the expense of who I am as a person, and who I say I’m fighting for.”
It should be a time of elation for the founders of two companies that could soon win a chance to open new pot shops in Illinois.
But as concerns over the fairness of the state’s process to award the next 75 dispensary licenses erupted in recent weeks, members of two minority-owned firms now express mixed feelings about moving onto the next phase after most similar social equity candidates saw their dreams go up in smoke.
While all 21 of the businesses that advanced to an upcoming lottery qualified for social equity status — a designation created to bolster diversity in the overwhelmingly white weed industry — many have been linked to individuals with deep pockets and connections to state politics.
Scorned applicants are now calling for an opportunity to revise their applications and challenge their scores, with a growing number of firms signing onto lawsuits seeking to halt the lottery. Finalist Britteney Kapri, an Uptown-based poet whose applicant group can win up to nine licenses in the lottery, said late last week that others who fell short should be able to make fixes so they can have a shot at the 75 dispensary permits.
“I want this more than anything and I hope that I get this,” Kapri said of the licenses. “But I don’t want it at the expense of who I am as a person, and who I say I’m fighting for. If it means they have to push back the lottery, obviously that will suck for me personally, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Woodlawn resident Diane Howard, an actress whose team has 11 chances to secure licenses, said instead of holding up the lottery, state officials should review the winners and potentially revoke provisional licenses granted to undeserving groups.
“If they’re not going to do that then we’re just in a holding period,” she said. “And the existing owners will continue in the business, with still no social equity.”
Kapri and Howard, both of whom are Black, described their applicant groups as “true” social equity candidates. As Howard decried the “front” groups that “managed to qualify for social equity by law,” Kapri said the swirling controversy has turned a joyous occasion into a “bittersweet” experience.
“I would prefer not to be lumped in with these types of people,” Kapri added.
Beacon of change
As Kapri sees it, a dispensary can be a beacon of change.
She has worked for nearly a decade with Young Chicago Authors, a nonprofit that founded the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival and reared local talent like Chance the Rapper and Noname. A renowned writer, Kapri published two poetry collections with Chicago-based Haymarket Books.
As an instructor for YCA, Kapri taught poetry at the juvenile detention center on the Near West Side, an experience that informs her approach to cannabis-related community building.
“The most important people are the marginalized people within marginalized communities, like women, trans folks, elderly folks, veterans, formerly incarcerated or incarcerated folks,” Kapri noted.
She ultimately wants to use her dispensary brand, Baked, to employ “people on the outskirts” and provide them a “living wage.” What’s more, she wants to offer pot-related internships to kids leaving that same lockup and fund scholarship programs to help the recently incarcerated earn budtender certifications.
The rest of Kapri’s team includes a dispensary worker, a cannabis educator, a health and wellness expert and an employee of the human rights organization Heartland Alliance.
Baked, which is nearly entirely minority-owned, earned extra points on its applications by teaming with Tyrone Branch, a former Marine who qualified for social equity status by living in an area that’s been disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
Kapri said the team “came together as a bunch of missing parts” with the help of her father, attorney Brendan Shiller.
‘Group of friends’
Shiller, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, has been doing legal and compliance work in the cannabis industry since medical pot was legalized. He was also instrumental in Howard’s applications.
The Morgan Park native and real estate professional is an actress who recently appeared in the Hulu series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga,” which chronicles the early days of the prolific rap crew from Staten Island, New York.
She described her company, Suite Greens, as “a group of friends” that includes her real estate partner, Sean Mason. The group applied for all the state’s new pot licenses, including the upcoming craft cultivation, transportation and infusion permits.
“There’s no egos here,” Mason said. “We’re just trying to learn as much as we can and give back as much as we can.”
The Suite Greens team also includes a California dispensary owner, a former retail executive for Louis Vuitton and Amazon, a medical pot patient with a nursing background and Mason’s sister. The group qualified as a social equity applicant through Walter Killingsworth, a veteran who lives in a disproportionately affected zone and will serve as head of security.
While the group is made up almost exclusively of people of color, Howard said creating equity in the state’s cannabis industry goes beyond licensing.
“We always said that if we were able to break into this business, that our community engagement or social equity doesn’t stop with the state of Illinois,” she said. “We want people from these neighborhoods who have been negatively affected, to be able to work and grow with us.”