Member Blog: Social Equity In Illinois
By Bethany Moore
May 18, 2020
/ Community
/ Education

Member Blog: Social Equity In Illinois

by Shawnee Williams, Recruiter & Account Manager at Illinois Equity Staffing

Recently, we had the pleasure of joining a webinar hosted by NCIA in which they discussed the state of the Illinois market. The #IndustryEssentials presentation covered topics such as Illinois House Bill 1438, social justice reform, licensing and social equity. 

Social equity just so happens to be a topic near and dear to my heart and is something we advocate for in everything we do in the industry. So let’s talk about it. What exactly is social equity and why is Illinois always in the social equity conversation? Well, social equity came about as an answer, if you will, to the many unfair statistics we see in the industry as a whole. What statistics, you ask? Well, 80% of the cannabis industry is owned by white males, even though minorities are four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses. Social equity is an intentional effort to lessen the gap and provide all people the opportunity to operate and work in the cannabis industry.

One misconception people tend to have is that social equity is diversity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By definition, a diverse team is a team of people that represents differing racial and ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disabilities, and military status. Diversity is about pulling together a well-rounded team to be more successful in solving the customers’ needs.

Social equity is purely about socioeconomic barriers. While that may be written in cannabis regulations differently depending on the state, here in Illinois, a social equity cannabis organization is defined as:

  1. A cannabis organization that is at least 51% or more owned by individuals who hold social equity status.
  2. OR a cannabis organization that has at least 51% or more of employees who hold social equity status.

How do we determine if a person holds social equity status here in Illinois? The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) surveyed census records to determine what areas had poverty levels 20% above the national average, what areas had 20% or more of families on food assistance programs and what areas that had schools with 75% or more of their students on the free lunch program. These particular areas were then surveyed for the prevalence of high drug-related arrests and this map was created.

If you type in an address and the address is covered in blue, that means that area is a disproportionately impacted area or “DIA”. Now there’s yet another layer to social equity; the war on drugs. If you received a charge, conviction, or arrest related to cannabis in Illinois, that now is expungable under the new Illinois bill you have social equity status. But wait, there’s more. If you have a parent, spouse, or child who received a charge, conviction, or arrest, that means you have been affected by the War on Drugs and also have social equity status.

Families who weathered the trauma of the war on drugs saw it in lost opportunities, barriers to entry, and constant judgment because of possessions, distribution, or consumption of a plant that is now legal in the state of Illinois. Far too often, these charges affected people already living in disproportionately impacted areas. 

So what are the rules?

For principal officers applying for licenses:

You must have lived in a DIA for at least five years and have two forms of identification proving this, including, state ID, driver’s license, pay stubs, voter registration cards, utility bills, or anything else the state may deem acceptable forms of residency.

You, your parent, your spouse, or your child has a charge, conviction, or arrest that is now expungable under the bill. This too must be proven with proper documentation of such arrest, charge, or conviction.

For employees:

You must currently live in a DIA and have two forms of identification proving this, including state ID, driver’s license, pay stubs, voter registration cards, utility bills, or anything else the state may deem acceptable forms of residence.

You, your parent, your spouse, or your child has a charge, conviction, or arrest that is now expungable under the bill. This too must be proven with proper documentation of such arrest, charge, or conviction.

While this all sounds very complicated, it is an effort by the state of Illinois to balance the scales. HB1438, although not perfect and never claimed to be, strives to right the wrongs of the war on drugs. While social equity holds 25% weight in the application process, we’re yet to see how it will be regulated for licensees in operation. With that said, many organizations in Illinois intend to keep those scales balanced and celebrate the most equitable cannabis market yet.

Rashaunah “Shawnee” Williams is the co-founder at Illinois Equity Staffing, a minority, disabled and woman-owned business based in Chicago, that supports the cannabis industry in education, job placement, human resources, payroll and compliance. While a south suburban native, Shawnee has also lived in Florida, Tennesee, Missouri, Nebraska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and California. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business and has worked in industries such as entertainment, recruiting, tech, higher education, marketing and sales. 

Shawnee and her business partner Lynette Johnson founded Illinois Equity Staffing because they understood the barriers to entry for lower and middle class people, minorities and women in the cannabis industry. Both having the Corporate America background, Shawnee and Lynette, understand the pain points of this population, as they both grew up in disproportionately impacted areas and are minority women. It’s this perspective that has allowed Illinois Equity Staffing to bridge the gap and create a more equitable cannabis industry in Illinois.

Shawnee also brings another unique perspective to IES, as she suffers from Lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome, two disabilities that involve the immune system. As a Black woman suffering from two autoimmune diseases, Shawnee advocates for those with debilitating diseases seeking more knowledge on alternative and holistic approaches to symptoms causes by autoimmune diseases. She also is an advocate for those suffering from disabilities that seek to find more uplifting, supportive and progressive employers. 

The cannabis industry has the opportunity to show older, more traditional industries the areas of opportunity to improve and to be more responsible. As such, Shawnee Williams and the team at Illinois Equity Staffing seek to be a leader in promoting a more socially equitable and diverse industry within the cannabis space in Illinois and nationally.


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