CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The call for diversifying the state's cannabis industry received a seat at the table at the city’s first Cannabis Resource Fair at the UIC Forum Saturday.
“The amount of people of color and women sitting in this audience is fantastic,” said Wanda James, CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary in Colorado, the first black-owned marijuana business in the state.
James participated in a keynote panel discussion with Mayor Lori Lightfoot that focused on industry opportunities available for minorities in Illinois, an issue that has been front and center even before marijuana was recreationally legal.
Lightfoot said aside from owning dispensaries, there are several other parts of the industry where black and brown communities can get involved.
She urged attendees that recreational marijuana is not going to be an all-white industry and is pushing to start a cannabis growing coop in empty lots and abandoned buildings.
“I know how costly this business is,” Lightfoot said.
She said she wants to see diversity in the cultivation, trucking, banking and security aspects of the industry. James echoed similar ways for diverse employees to jump on the cannabis train, noting the industry needs a plethora of jobs just like other fields.
She said graphic designers, curriers, interior dispensary-only designers and grow facility designers are just some examples of jobs needed in the industry.
“There are so many jobs you are currently doing right now that you can take into the cannabis space and be part of the industry, influence the industry and quite frankly, make money a lot easier,” she said.
One way she's working toward this goal is by creating a loan program with efforts to support less equal entrepreneurs be part of the industry and give them a shot at equality. The program, Hutchinson hopes, would reserve cannabis business licenses specifically for them.
"We have to work really hard to impliment it, but also plan for what we hope the industry grows to be," Hutchinson told WBBM in early January.