Local Cannabis Social Equity applicants want licenses, struggle with application

CHICAGO (WLS) -- From a barber on the South Side to a hydroponic farmer on the West Side, Danny Joe Sorg and Alicia Nesbary-Moore are hoping to break into Illinois' new recreational cannabis industry.

"I really don't see anybody like me, female, black and lives in an impacted community," said Alicia Nesbary-Moore, a Cannabis Social Equity applicant.

Nesbary-Moore lives and works in East Garfield Park, a West Side neighborhood affected by the war on drugs. The 32-year-old molecular biologist runs Herban Produce, a hydroponic farm that provides produce to local restaurants.

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The small company's mission is to give back to the community. It employs neighborhood residents. Hoping to expand the business to include cannabis, Nesbary-Moore said she is the perfect social equity applicant for a dispensary license and eventually a craft grow license.

"I think we have a great story," she said. "We are established in the community, we have support of the community, and I'm hoping the state really looks at that."

By May 1, the state will award 75 new recreational use dispensary licenses. To diversify an industry that is mostly owned by white men, social equity applicants get priority.

"There are points built into the application for who is a social equity applicant, what communities who come from and how you have been touched by this over the course of your life," Illinois Cannabis Czar Toi Hutchinson said.

More points are included for applicants who have marijuana arrests in their past.

Barbershop owner Danny Joe Sorg said he is one of them. But, he and so many others face a daunting task in getting through the application process.

"The application itself is very lengthy, a 400-page application," Sorg said. "And you have to have certain resources and infrastructure in place just to navigate the completion of it."

Nesbary-Moore agreed.

"This application is harder than my grad school application," she said.

To help navigate the process, minority applicants are teaming up with big medical marijuana companies, groups or consultants.

Ron Holmes is helping about 40 social equity applicants.

"My goal is simple. I want to offer the state a quality slate of candidates, where they can't say on May 1st, there were no qualified minority candidates that were knocking on the door," Holmes said.

If successful, Nesbary-Moore and Sorg both said the next hurdle is making sure people of color have a stake in the industry for the long haul.

"I really do want to be that pipeline to help other people get into the industry if I'm to get a license," Nesbary-Moore said.

Sorg said he wants to shoot for the stars.
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