CHICAGO (WLS) -- In a push to help people get into the marijuana business, Cresco Labs is launching a program in Illinois that could help minority entrepreneurs open a dispensary of their own.
The community incubator program is intended to help people from neighborhoods negatively affected by the war on drugs to apply for one of the state's 75 adult use dispensary licenses. They will also help provide seed money to get the business up and running if the applicant is awarded a license.
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Phillip Chandler, 30, grew up in Humboldt Park. Coming from a dysfunctional family, the streets were all he knew.
"Growing up here I would say was pretty traumatic, I was part of a rival gang," he said.
Chandler was caught by police with marijuana in an alley across Augusta Boulevard when he was just 14 years old.
"It was just five nickel bags, and just on our way to the neighborhood to sell it, when we got pulled over," he recalled.
Sixteen years later, Chandler is hoping the drug that ruined lives and neighborhoods will help turn them around when adult recreational use becomes legal in Illinois. With the help of Cresco Labs, Chandler is one of 130 people who plan to apply for a dispensary license as a social equity applicant.
"The intent is to make sure the preparation is there and the resources are there to make sure it is viable," said Charlie Bachtell, CEO and co-founder of Cresco Labs.
The Chicago-based company is one of the largest cannabis operators in the United States. By law, Cresco can only own 10 percent of the businesses they help start.
"The win for us is we've got sustainable, viable operations, which makes the marketplace bigger," Bachtell said.
Applications for the 75 licenses are due January 2. The state of Illinois has until May to decide who gets them. If Chandler is lucky to win one, he said not only will he give job opportunities to people in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, but also use some of the revenue he earns to give back.
"It ruined my community, so I'm morally obligated to use the benefits of cannabis to change my community," he said.
Click here for more information about Illinois adult use cannabis and social equity.