In 2019, Illinois became the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize adult-use cannabis. However, for Black and brown folks, the barriers to entry still haven’t let up. 

For Englewood native Ariel Rainey, 33, the cannabis licensing process has not been a walk in the park. It’s expensive, confusing and lengthy, among other things.  Rainey has an investment partnership with East Coast-based Ethos, a medical cannabis company. Ethos covered the costs of the application and provided an attorney. Meanwhile, Rainey paid for an additional attorney out-of-pocket.

“If I did not have that backing and I had to do it myself, I would not have finished the application,” Rainey said. She is the founder and CEO of Hustle Mommies, a nonprofit that amplifies the voices of moms and provides them with resources for their families and communities. “So that’s the downside of trying to get into cannabis. When you have to bootstrap and fundraise and figure out how to get in, and there’s no way for you to get in.”

The global COVID-19 pandemic and numerous lawsuits plagued the rollout of the state’s cannabis licensing process. New legislation helped alleviate some of the issues that challenged Black and brown applicants. 

Last year, 937 businesses submitted more than 4,500 applications, and just 21 earned perfect scores on their applications, which allowed them to qualify for a lottery. According to a Chicago Tribune report, the losing applicants filed lawsuits alleging that the consultant KPMG, who evaluated their applications, “gave different scores for identical information, among other problems.” 


This year, state lawmakers wrote new legislation to revamp the cannabis license process. House Bill 1443 (HB1443) was adopted by the Illinois State Legislature and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in May. The bill created three cannabis dispensary lotteries to dole out another 185 cannabis dispensary licenses.

Submitting the application

In recent weeks, the state held three lotteries, giving applicants another shot at pot shop ownership — but it took almost two years to get to this point. In 2019, Rainey applied for a cannabis license as a social equity applicant and was chosen to enter two of three lotteries. 

To be considered a social equity applicant, at least half of the company’s ownership must live in a community hardest hit by the War on Drugs, been arrested or convicted for any cannabis-related charges, or be a member of a family impacted by cannabis-related arrests or convictions.

The company must also employ 10 full-time employees, where at least half lived in impacted communities or have been arrested or convicted for cannabis-related charges or be a member of a family that has experienced that. 

Applications are $2,500 each for social equity applicants and $5,000 for non-social equity applicants. Licenses are scored using a points system, with the highest score being 250 points.

Photo courtesy of Ariel Rainey.

“It was so complex and so tedious,” Rainey said. On Sept. 3, the Illinois Department of  Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) announced that a fourth lottery will be held to give six applicants another shot at securing additional licenses. At publishing time, officials hadn’t provided a date for the fourth lottery.

“That’s a barrier for Black people to get into the industry and the application [including fees for legal and cultivation centers] costs six figures damn near, and depending on how many applications you put in, to get into the industry, it’s a gamble,” Rainey explained. “There’s not a guarantee you will get a license.” 

For the last eight years, Rainey has been studying the ins and outs of the cannabis industry in other states like California, where recreational cannabis was legalized in 2016. While living in California, she connected with folks in the industry and became a member of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club.

Rainey felt that becoming a cannabis shop owner was an opportunity to bring sustainable income to communities on Chicago’s West and South sides. That’s one of the reasons she applied for multiple licenses in 2019, including a cannabis dispensary license for her company, the Mary Jane Group, a craft grower license and a cannabis transportation license. 

“Submitting an application was significant for me because I wanted to have moms who lost their baby fathers and kids, and even some of their rights from selling cannabis, to be able to get into this industry and thrive,” Rainey said.  

Britteney Kapri, 33, and Apriel Campbell, 32, are two other women who applied for cannabis dispensary applications as social equity applicants with the IDFPR. Both scored high on their applications: Kapri received 252 points and Campbell received 245 points. Kapri got extra points because her business partner is a military veteran. Rainey also received 245 points on her application. 

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In 2019, Kapri, who lives in Uptown, was ready for a career change. She was a teaching artist and facilitator at a nonprofit, as well as a touring poet.

When Kapri saw that Illinois was accepting applications for cannabis dispensaries, she applied on a whim, submitting her application days before the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline. She isn’t passionate about weed per se, but her business partner Tyrone Branch is. She sees owning her own shop as a pathway to do practical work in the community. For example, she’d like a portion of her sales to be used to support mutual aid funds and community organizations such as GoodKids MadCity. 

For Kapri, it’s about redistributing access and resources to the people and communities that have experienced the most harm as a result of the War on Drugs. She and her business partner filed 20 applications under the names So Baked Too LLC and Veterans Alternative Healing LLC. 

Kapri and Branch used their own resources to pay for the application and legal fees. 

Photo courtesy of Britteney Kapri. Photo by Taylor Castle.

“What I see is a growing, booming industry that was created on the backs of Black and brown people, and there was a space to open it up for social equity applicants,” Kapri said. “I was like, okay, I’m gonna try. I came up with my concept. I worked on my application. I did all these things, and I didn’t expect to be here at all.” 

Campbell is a North Lawndale native and assistant director of civic engagement at the School of the Art Institute. She was inspired to create a cannabis shop for and by women of color in Chicago and saw ownership as a way to create generational wealth for her West Side neighborhood.

“I felt like there was not enough representation of Black folks in Illinois. Just from the networking that I did, it was obvious that multi-state operators were monopolizing the industry,” Campbell said. “It was important to take the chance to try to get into the industry, based on the resources that I had. So I felt like that would be the opportunity to create this type of generational wealth that could change communities.”

Campell filed two applications for her business Green Ivy Care LLC. She also has an investment partnership with Ethos. Ethos covered Campbell’s application costs, but she paid out of pocket for attorneys fees.

They’re not giving up

Out of the three women, only Kapri won a cannabis dispensary license through the third lottery held on Aug. 19. 

“It’s been a VERY VERY long journey but I’m happy to announce that BAKED is coming soon. Ya girl (and my amazing and supportive team) finally got our day and we won a Cannabis License in Chicago thank you to everyone who sent prayers and love and memes,” Kapri posted  on Twitter on Aug. 19.

Though Kapri is a winner of a cannabis license, she and the 184 winning companies still don’t have permits in hand, and it’s unclear when they’ll receive them, due to an ongoing lawsuit where a judge could rule to reset the whole process. But she said she does not plan to give up. 

“If I gave up because things were hard, I wouldn’t succeed anywhere because I’m a Black woman,” Kapri said. “The way American policies are laid out and the way corporations move, it is beneficial for them to keep [the cannabis industry] small and in pocket. And because of that, whoever has the access, it is our responsibility to open up doors.”

Both Campbell and Rainey were selected for two of the three state lotteries, but their numbers were not called. 

“It was devastating. It was very saddening. I was kind of like, what do I do now? I love the advocacy work that I do. But I felt, like, what do we work on? I felt bamboozled, just fooled,” Campbell said.

The lottery didn’t play out in the typical way lotteries are viewed on television, and that process didn’t feel entirely transparent to Campbell. Instead, the list of winners was contacted by email. An explanation of how IDFPR conducted its lottery can be found here

“It was behind closed doors from what I know. Nobody saw the lottery,” Campbell said. “They [IDFPR] said that they were using some computer system to spit out algorithms of numbers, like how they do the [Illinois] lottery. But I’m like, well, we see lotteries on TV, right? Like they have the little balls and stuff.” 

Photo courtesy of Apriel campbell. Photo by Man Forward.

Campbell’s Green Ivy Care is an extension of the work that she is already doing under her brand Ivy Care LLC, which specializes in self-care, beauty, lifestyle, and wellness for women. 

Although Campbell has learned a lot from this ordeal as an applicant and coalition member of the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, she is not discouraged from her goal to open a cannabis shop in Chicago. 

“I knew this going in, that I could not get a license,” Campbell said. “I’ll continue to watch the legislation and see what other opportunities are to come and continue to be a collaborator and be in community with folks. I know some people that won. I’m happy for them. They’re a part of my journey. I’m sure there’s a lot I can learn from them.”

Rainey is prepared to keep going despite the setbacks that have come her way. Although she said she reached the 75 percent threshold to be qualified to receive a transporter license from the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), she did not receive one. 

A transporter license allows Illinois cannabis businesses to transport cannabis and cannabis-infused products. Cannabis facilities can’t transport cannabis goods without a transporter license.

According to Rainey, the IDOA said she didn’t answer all the questions on the application, but she said that wasn’t accurate. 

However, she’s not giving up on her goal to own a shop and would like to see state officials make changes to the application process so that it is inclusive and fair for all applicants.

“I feel that the fight doesn’t end here,” Rainey said. “I’m advocating for those who are convicted felons, who do want to get into this industry and who’ve been shut out. I’m advocating for the many moms who lost their baby fathers and kids to gun violence. I’m advocating for the moms who are looking for hustles that can create generational wealth.”

Correction (9/29/2021): This story has been updated to reflect that both Campbell and Rainey were selected for two of the three state lotteries, but their numbers were not called. 

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.