Inside a cavernous warehouse in Rockford, behind three sets of locked doors, hundreds of tiny cannabis seedlings grow. They are the starter crop grown in Illinois by Star Buds, which on Monday became the first licensed predominantly black-owned cannabis business and the first craft grower to open its doors in the state.
As an artisan producer, the size of the business is very limited compared to existing producers. But its launch also served as an inspiration to hundreds of other Illinois cannabis business owners still trying to get off the ground.
“It took persistence,” said Executive Director Victoria Williams. “I am very proud to show people that it can be done.”
The corporate entity, SB IL Grow LLC, is two-thirds Black owned, authorities said. He’s doing business as partners with Star Buds, an out-of-state marijuana company that had the experience to help get the business started here.
star buds started in Colorado in 2013 and operates marijuana farms and dispensaries in several states and countries, including Jamaica. Local co-owner Ahmad Joudeh of Palos Hills, who owns a chain of T-Mobile stores in the Chicago area, had family in Star Buds and formed a multi-racial partnership.
Six other artisanal cannabis growers, limited to 5,000 square feet of flowering plants, they are expected to open in the next few months, with another dozen gearing up behind them. That leaves 70 other artisanal growers yet to get off the ground, along with hundreds of infusers, shippers and retail stores, as many struggle to get funding.
Unlike dispensary licenses, which may not be sold until they open their doors, some artisanal growers are looking to sell their licenses.
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The Illinois licensing process was repeatedly delayed in Illinois due to complications from the COVID pandemic, claims of unfairness in qualifying applications, and lawsuits.
It took almost two years for Star Buds to obtain a license, then another year to buy and modernize a warehouse in an industrial park. After previous plans to locate in Aurora fell through, officials settled in Rockford, where city officials cooperated to make it happen.
The warehouse remains mostly empty except for one room where 600 cuttings or clones of six-inch plants grow. After five weeks, they will be transferred to a larger room to mature or “vegetate” for another five weeks, followed by eight weeks of alternating 12 hours of light and dark. That will simulate day and night to trigger the growth of flower buds that contain THC, the main psychoactive component that gets users high.
After curing, trimming, and packaging, it will be six months total before Star Buds’ Kaviar brand hits the shelves of licensed dispensaries statewide.
The growing area can be increased in 3,000-square-foot increments up to 14,000 square feet, a process David Lakeman, head of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s cannabis and hemp division, said could be done in six months to a year.
That’s encouraging for artisanal growers, who have said they can’t get investors for just 5,000 square feet. For now, they remain small next to the 210,000 square feet allowed for each of the 21 established full-size growers. If the 88 artisanal growers were to open, they would only be comparable in size to about two of the big growers, but without name recognition, yet.
“In some ways, that’s a plus,” said co-founder Brian Ruden. “We can pay more attention to the plants and focus on quality versus quantity.”