Illinois marijuana legalization 1st year marked by rapid growth, persisting inequality

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's been a year of rapid growth for the marijuana industry in Illinois. Cresco Labs recently celebrated the grand opening of another story, its 10th.

"We're the first company to have 10 stores in the state of Illinois," said Jason Erkes of Cresco Labs. "We have the Naperville mayor out here welcoming us, and if you remember Naperville initially opted out of having cannabis stores in their community."

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So far this year, Illinois dispensaries have sold more than $580 million worth of recreational pot, according to the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

"This is all new money that the state never had," said State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago). "And this is new money that taxpayers will be able to use for the benefit of the state."

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But Rep. Ford said it's disappointing that Black and brown communities haven't been able to profit.

"I believe that the state failed in diversifying, and it's our job now to get it right. And that's what the governor and his team are aiming for," Ford said.

"That has to happen next year. You know, we have to take those social equity applicants, they need to own a piece of this industry moving forward<" said Erkes.

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The intent of the cannabis law was not only to bolster minority ownership, but also address the impact of the war on drugs. New Leaf Illinois, a new state-funded organization, is now available to help people clear their records of some marijuana convictions.

"One of the main motivations behind having this process available was repairing the harm that was brought on people that were doing previously illegal activity that is now legal under the law, and people are benefitting from it," said Beth Johnson, Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.

In helping people to set their record straight, they're also making it easier for them to find housing and jobs.

To get helping clearing your past marijuana conviction from your record, you can visit New Leaf's website or call their hotline at 855-963-9532.
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