Chicago rapper Vic Mensa launches black-owned cannabis brand amid struggle by most Illinois craft growers to get started

Chicago rapper and activist Vic Mensa applied for, but has so far been denied, licenses to grow and sell marijuana in Illinois.

So he found another way to his goal. He started growing his own brand through a grower who was already licensed.

As a result, he believes 93 Boyz is the first black-owned cannabis company on the legal market here. He sells what he calls the flower and “heavier, more intoxicating gas” joints at local dispensaries.

“Marijuana is a unifier,” Mensa told the Tribune. “It’s a connector. Many great relationships are built on it. Rarely do you see people in a smoking session start a fist fight. That is not the energy of the grass.”

The fact that Mensa had to navigate the licensing process to become first out again illustrates the difficulties faced by minorities in particular. companies trying to break into the almost exclusively white-owned marijuana market industry in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture reports that it issued 88 small-scale grower licenses last year, but only six are moving forward with construction. More than a dozen more are close to that point.

As for financing, the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development told the Tribune that it has approved just three loans for artisanal growers that are in the process of completing their financing, with another five expected to be approved next week.

Reese Xavier Walton knows the difficulties of starting a small-scale farming business. Your black property HT23 The team won a license, but it was financed by family and friends, without the pocket investors or the big names that entered the ground floor of the industry.

Your company was unable to pass the credit check required by the state’s private financial partners to qualify for the state. low interest loans, funded by cannabis taxes. In response to questions from the Tribune about it, the DCEO released a statement saying it “is in the process of evaluating program enhancements to help the program realize its vision,” with more details to come in the coming weeks.

HT23 will hit a “brick wall” unless it can raise some of the $9 million needed to renovate an old strip mall in Chicago Heights, Walton said. To start with a small part of the facility, he is trying to raise the first half million or more, selling shares for $250 each.

On Sunday, HT23 held a tour of its facilities, in a former boxing gym and hardware store, by invitation only, to attract larger investors.

“Social equity in cannabis is more than a dream, it is something that can happen, but it is a challenge without funding or support,” said Walton.

While rising construction costs are an issue, the main obstacle cottage growers face is the state’s legal limit on their size: 5,000 square feet of flower-growing area, a drop in the bucket compared to 210,000 square feet allowed to established growers.

Because of that limit on the amount of product they can produce, the entrepreneurs say, investors won’t lend them the money they need.

Attorney Scott Redman, director of the Independent Artisan Growers Association of Illinois, and whose Drecisco team won a license, said he was told adamantly by a cannabis investment company that it would not fund any artisanal growers because the grow space is too large. small for the business to be viable.

“There has to be some way forward, or we’re going to be stuck with a bunch of licenses that can’t go anywhere,” Redman said. “If we can’t finance, the only alternative is to sell our licenses.”

The size limit was supposedly intended to make it easier for small businesses to start, but has instead protected existing growers who obtained licenses starting in 2015, after medical marijuana was legalized. Now, if the licenses are sold, they are likely to go to other large multi-state operators that have the money to buy them.

Artisanal growers hope to address the situation by getting lawmakers to substantially increase the size limit.

This year and last, the state has announced the granting of a total of 88 small-scale grower licenses, and this summer, 182 retail stores, but only about six small-scale growers have obtained pre-construction permits, officials said.

Governor JB Pritzker called it “powerful steps to address the decades of injustice that preceded the legalization of cannabis.”

While those licensees struggle to get up and running, Mensa won’t have to wait. Instead of having to start a business from scratch, he agreed to let the award-winning Aeriz grower produces his cannabis, through the subsidiary Wellness Group Pharms LLC in the south of Anna state.

Aeriz is based in Chicago and uses aeroponics to grow cannabis without soil in a medium of clay balls. Collaborate with Mensa on the genetics, recipe and procedures to follow to make its proprietary blend. 93 Boyz held a launch party on Saturday to celebrate.

Cannabis licensing is a model that is becoming increasingly common, particularly among celebrities such as Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, and the Bob Marley estate. Since federal law still prohibits marijuana, companies cannot ship the product across state lines, so they must obtain a production license in each state that allows it.

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Mensa, of Hyde Park, who was charged with felony possession of LSD and mushrooms at a Washington, DC airport in January, said selling weed was his “first hustle” and helped finance his start in music. He criticized the state’s licensing process and said he hopes to add some “flavor” to the corporate marijuana culture in Illinois.

He also plans to reinvest in people incarcerated in the war on drugs, first by donating a portion of the profits to his Books Before Bars program. Aeriz said she bought 1,000 books to send to the Cook County jail and state prisons.

Illinois’ cannabis program has yet to meet its stated goal of social equity, Mensa said, acknowledging that many other black-owned businesses can’t get money to start. “But a lot of people are committed to seeing it happen one way or another,” she said.

In addition to the new growers, 54 cannabis infusers, which manufacture edibles and other cannabis-infused products, and 189 transportation businesses have also been licensed in Illinois, with several about to begin operations.

Statewide, nearly 5,000 employees are licensed to work at cannabis cultivation, infusion, and transportation businesses.

But the department recently issued a policy that infusers cannot extract THC or other cannabinoids from the plant, and cannot make vape cartridges or joints, making infusers more reliant on growers.

And growers are licensed to transport their own produce, severely limiting the amount of business available to shippers.

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