Member Blog: Legal Cannabis in Illinois – Expanded Possibilities For All
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Member Blog: Legal Cannabis in Illinois – Expanded Possibilities For All

by Payal Shah, Cannabis Insight Collective

Today, Governor Jim Pritzker of Illinois signed the historic House Bill 1438, The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, into law, ending prohibition for recreational cannabis usage across the state, and making it the 11th state where cannabis is legal. I, along with so many others in Illinois, and around the United States, am just as excited as the Governor.

The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation. This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.” – Governor Pritzker, IL

This is a game-changer for the state of Illinois and its constituents. Public health, education, and tourism are just a few of the areas that are expected to emerge victoriously by being some of the beneficiaries of the $170 million dollars in expected tax revenue in early years.

But to me, what’s even more extraordinary is the fact that within IL’s legalization law is a visionary plan that will serve as inspiration to advance the nation’s social equity movement in this industry. 

With the end of cannabis prohibition, we see the beginning of the end to the “war on drugs” as we know it, one that shrouded lower-income and traditionally Latinx and African-American communities in an unjust and unfair light.

The ACLU states that people in the United States use and sell marijuana at roughly the same rate regardless of their race, yet a black person is almost four times more likely than a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession nationwide. In addition, roughly 13,000 people were deported or separated from their communities and families in 2013 alone for drug-related offenses.

Even the word marijuana itself can be considered negative and racist, based on a longstanding theory that narcotics agents in the 1930s chose a word of Mexican-Spanish origin over the more scientific word cannabis when crafting drug laws, making it sound more sinister and associated with a certain community. 

The equitable measures put into place in Illinois’ cannabis legalization law are unprecedented when it comes to making sure the end of cannabis prohibition will result in brighter days for the masses, not just a select few.  


New processing and cultivation licenses will be issued in mid-2020, with growers from communities negatively impacted the most by cannabis prohibition getting priority within the application process.


Up to 770,000 people in Illinois qualify to have their marijuana convictions expunged from their criminal record, healing past wounds and providing access to new opportunities that weren’t available in the past because of past marijuana laws.


One quarter of cannabis taxes collected will fund a grant program that will invest in minority communities impacted most negatively by cannabis prohibition, driving cannabis business opportunities, by offering assistance and mentorship.

Even 2020 candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand shared her comprehensive plan to legalize marijuana on a Federal level immediately if she becomes president. In that plan, social equity is also the primary focus on the path to legalization.

The unfair enforcement of our current marijuana laws is a continuation of the institutional racism that has defined our criminal justice system for decades… We’re talking about entire lives, families, and communities being derailed: felony convictions make it much harder to get and keep jobs, access financial loans, exercise the right to vote, travel abroad, and receive social and housing benefits.” – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

And just recently, Chicago-based Cresco Labs launched its Social Equity & Educational Department (SEED), an initiative aimed at promoting inclusion, equality and community engagement, through community outreach, educational support and incubators for veteran, minority and women-owned businesses. 

Our SEED initiative is designed to ensure that all members of our society have the skills, knowledge and opportunity to work in and own businesses in this industry….the SEED initiative consists of impactful programs and actionable solutions-based approaches that we believe will help make the cannabis industry a highly inclusive force for job creation.” – Charlie Bachtell, CEO, Cresco Lab

I also believe in a fair and equitable cannabis industry that unites as one to fix the damage done within certain communities as a direct result of cannabis prohibition. The National Cannabis Industry Association, along with the Minority Cannabis Business Association, are helping to shape laws and create a roadmap for local governments to address social equity issues right from the start of legalization.

“It is fitting that the Land of Lincoln is moving forward with such extensive measures to reverse the damage done to people of color and low-income communities by the government’s senseless war on cannabis consumers. We cannot continue to pursue legalization without considering restorative justice, and Illinois is definitely starting on the right foot in this regard,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).

And as further fuel to ignite the social equity movement, with the end of prohibition in sight, we’re also seeing exponential growth in all sectors of cannabis business. And with that growth comes a highly qualified talent boom in cannabis, with executives from all industries making the move to join and imagine an exciting new space together, from all perspectives. One exciting space that cannabis businesses can look to Corporate America for inspiration is within Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

Corporate Social Responsibility programs, or CSR, is a way for companies to conduct their business in a manner that is ethical, while taking their social, economic and environmental impact, along with the consideration of human rights, into account. It can be a win-win situation for all parties involved – through CSR programs, businesses can benefit society while boosting their own brands. Most have probably heard of Tom’s Shoes, and their popular “One for One” CSR program, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair bought. General Electrics donated over $38 million to community and education programs in 2016. Disney has a “VoluntEARs” program, which allows all of their employees to use a portion of their hours towards volunteer efforts.

With so many new brands coming into the market following legalization, it’s important that they find a way to stand apart and above the competition, while delivering a relevant brand experience. In order to do that successfully, brands need to stand for something, something that matters to people. And what we’re hearing from legislators and constituents alike is that social equity in the cannabis industry matters a lot. It’s a space for us, as responsible cannabis business owners paving a path forward, to come together and share not only the secrets of their success, but also to share the gains with the entire cannabis community, in order to lift everyone up – to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.

The possibilities are limitless, just like the new frontier of cannabis. I look forward to seeing how we all grow together.

Payal Shah is founder and CEO of the Cannabis Insight Collective. She’s spent the last two decades in strategic planning, working in leadership roles within global advertising agencies, on blue-chip clients including Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft, Walmart, Kelloggs, and Porsche.

Her experience is focused on understanding how cultural paradigm shifts and trends impact and influence people, their behaviors and brand choices. Her knowledge is grounded in creating and cultivating online panels, or Collectives, of all sizes and shapes, to address a variety of challenges for various clients. This background, along with a compassion and conviction for the cannabis industry, inspire her to be an advocate to drive the cannabis industry forward. 

Cannabis Insight Collective is a living, breathing online community of people across the United States, brought together by their connection to the cannabis industry. We exist to uncover cultural, category and consumer trends and insights within the category by tapping into our proprietary Collective, and working with people directly to answer questions that brands are struggling to answer.  

At Cannabis Insight Collective, we are committed to supporting social equity in the cannabis market, and treating everyone fairly and respectively, through a number of Corporate Social Responsibility business initiatives:

  • The Cannabis Insight Collective panel will be representative of the entire United States population to ensure a representative voice is heard.
  • A percentage of CIC’s revenue will be donated to the advancement and mentorship of minority-owned cannabis businesses.
  • CIC will continue to advocate to establish new and existing laws that make sure the cannabis industry is fair and equitable.



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