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Black Entrepreneur Offers Loans to Potential Marijuana Dispensary Owners in Illinois

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Illinois recently became the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis through its legislature. To promote social equity in areas long-impacted by the criminalization of marijuana, state law offers a path for potential business owners in these communities to apply for dispensary licenses. And since they may not have the economic means to pay the application fee, Chicago entrepreneur Seke Ballard has offered $250,000 in loans to 100 social equity candidates.

“We’re not going to wait on the state [and] we’re not going to wait on the city,” said Ballard in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. The 35 year-old founder of Good Tree Capital—a Seattle-based company that provides loans to small marijuana vendors—has a masters in business administration from Harvard University and worked at Proctor & Gamble and Amazon before moving to Chicago to start his own business in 2015.  

“We are going to make sure that at least 100 social equity applicants have the support and knowledge they need to submit complete, compelling applications,” he said. Ballard has promised to offer chosen companies and individuals low or no-interest loans to cover the $2,5000 submission fee. Loan recipients must have no previous stake in Illinois’ cannabis industry; and ideally have been charged or convicted for a marijuana-related offense, or lived in one of the state-identified “disproportionately impacted areas.”

Governor JB Pritzker signed the bill legalizing the use and sale for recreational marijuana to adults in Illinois last June, making it the 11th state to legalize marijuana. The law goes into effect as of January 1, 2020.

“As Illinois continues its path toward putting equity at the forefront of the state’s new adult-use cannabis expansion, it’s important to create opportunities in communities that have been hardest hit by the war on marijuana,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Not only will social equity applicants receive points on their applications, but many applicants will also get grants, technical assistance, low-interest loans and fee reductions and waivers. Taken together, these efforts will do more than any other state in the nation has done to focus on equity.”

In September the governor’s office released maps depicting these “disproportionately impacted areas, where more that a reported 2 million Illinoisans live. This designation has been assigned to communities with marked unemployment, and poverty; as well as high arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates linked to marijuana. Meanwhile, the ACLU reports that at the national level Blacks are three times as likely as whites to be arrested for cannabis despite similar usage rates. Also, there have been 8.2 million pot-related arrests in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, and just 88% of these arrests were for simple possession.

Applications for  up to 75 conditional dispensary licenses will be accepted between December 10 and January 2, and issued by May 1, 2020.  

Despite the governor’s best efforts, Ballard is still concerned that some will miss out on the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Illinois’ growing cannabis industry. So he’s accepting submissions until November 15, and hoping the Good Tree loans will improve their chances. 

“We’re going to provide you with the capital,” Ballard said to the Chicago Sun Times. “We expect to be paid back, but we’re not trying to make a profit off of you. We just want to make sure you’ve got the resources you need.”

Cassandra Etienne is a freelance reporter and video journalist based in New Jersey. Her multimedia and documentary projects reflect an interest in cultural reporting, and in covering social issues such as civil rights, women's health, and education and healthcare reforms.