At the start of 2020, the state of Illinois legalized the use of marijuana - with that came the influx of corporate, larger-scale, industrialized cannabis grow businesses (Cannabis information center, n.d.). The Illinois Department of Agriculture seems determined to change this; on June 1st of this year, they awarded 48 Craft Grow Licenses to smaller growers (Press-release, 2022). Of those awarded, many recipients are Black or Hispanic-owned: 42% Black-owned, 36% White-owned, 8% Hispanic-owned, and 8% are owned by a partnership group (Press-release, 2022). Notably, one hundred percent of the new licenses issued went to people who are Social Equity Applicants (Press-release, 2022).
In order to qualify, Social Equity Applicants must have lived in a Disproportionately Impacted Area, been arrested/convicted/adjudicated for cannabis-related offenses, or have a parent, child, or spouse who has been affected by the before-mentioned anti-cannabis legislation (Social Equity Applicant Criteria, n.d.).
Just before this latest batch of licenses, an Illinois judge helped streamline the application process, which undoubtedly assisted these new licensees in their endeavors (McCoppin, 2022). The application, which was hundreds of pages, extremely costly, and required lawyers and experts to complete, has now been changed to a two-page online form where qualified personnel is entered into a lottery (McCoppin, 2022). Alongside that, there are now updated requirements for businesses to maintain diversity standards in their locations, hiring and vending practices, and more (McCoppin, 2022).
Legislative steps like this help us move towards a future of diversity within the marijuana industry, which paves the way for an even more enriching and competitive cannabis market.
One thing that Illinois lawmakers should have in mind, however, is how to maintain and sustain these smaller craft companies. In January of this year, cannabis advocates, small farmers, and business owners rallied outside the State Capitol to demand action from lawmakers (Lozano, 2022). They argued that the craft cannabis industry is on the brink of collapse and that the state legislature has failed to right the wrongs inflicted upon the Black and brown communities impacted by the war on drugs (Lozano, 2022). Their arguments outlined the heavy taxes, largely unmonitored illegal market, and looming competition from cannabis conglomerates that have been chiseling away at the craft cannabis business for years (Lozano, 2022).
Essentially, while Illinois lawmakers appear to be taking the proper steps towards diversity and inclusion, they need to tread lightly and listen carefully to the voices of the people they serve to ensure a thriving, vibrant craft cannabis industry.
Craft Cannabis Explained
Craft grow licenses are unique in their approach to cannabis cultivation. “Craft” is a smaller-scale growth approach that tries to utilize larger-scale equipment and techniques. While “craft” is not an official term, industry professionals generally agree that craft-grown cannabis consists of individually handled and hand-trimmed flowers (Schroyer, 2022).
That isn’t to say that industrially grown cannabis is neglected, but it is generally understood that the larger an operation, the harder it is to give every flower attention. Likewise, as noted cannabis writer Luke Sholl writes for Canna Connection, large-scale operations may compromise quality for a lower production price (2021). They may utilize machine trimmers for harvest and may employ synthetic pesticides, which could jeopardize quality, potency, and ultimately, consumer safety (Sholl, 2021).
Craft growers, on the other hand, grow cannabis with the utmost attention to detail. Between the specialized timing and spacing of the grow, tailored lighting, and quality curing, craft cannabis is a highly personalized method that values quality over quantity (Schroyer, 2022). It is also typically grown locally with local inputs and values organic or environmentally friendly practices (Schroyer, 2021). Generally, that tends to make craft-grown cannabis more expensive (Sholl, 2021).
However, if Illinois continues this trend – they have issued 88 craft grow licenses, 54 infuser licenses, 189 transporter licenses, and more since 2021 (Press release, 2022) – the cannabis market will have more competition, which should benefit the consumers in competitive prices, higher-quality products, and a bigger cannabis industry for improved diversity, research, and accessibility.
As an industry-leading cannabis testing lab, we are excited to join you in the Illinois cannabis industry. At Steep Hill, we know quality is more important than quantity, which is why we offer services like lab testing, research, and development, licensing, remote testing, and much more. We continue to explore different services and pricing to better serve craft growers to be more successful and competitive. Let’s craft an inclusive, energetic, and consumer-safety-focused cannabis community in our beloved state of Illinois, together.
Cannabis information center. City of Chicago. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/cannabis-information-center/home.html
Lozano, A. V. (2022, January 28). Craft Cannabis Industry in California is 'on the brink of collapse,' advocates say. NBCNews.com. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/-brink-collapse-california-pot-businesses-call-tax-overhaul-rcna12175
McCoppin, R. (2022, May 19). State Issues Permits for new craft cannabis operations to start construction amid ongoing turmoil in Illinois Marijuana Industry. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.chicagotribune.com/marijuana/illinois/ct-illinois-marijuana-licenses-20220519-5djh6qiqkbbbramcugobj4afm4-story.html
Press-release. Illinois.gov. (2022, June 1). Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.illinois.gov/news/press-release.24986.html
Schroyer, J., Israel, S., & Schaneman, B. (2022, March 15). Artisanal marijuana growers strive for small-batch, hand-tended, high-quality flower. MJBizDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://mjbizdaily.com/art-of-cultivating-craft-cannabis-with-small-batch-high-quality-flower/
Schroyer, J., Schaneman, B., & Israel, S. (2021, December 18). Craft cannabis is the marijuana industry's small-batch sector. MJBizDaily. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://mjbizdaily.com/craft-cannabis-is-the-marijuana-industrys-small-batch-sector/
Social Equity Applicant Criteria. Illinois.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/CannabisEquity/Pages/SocialEquityApplicantCriteria-.aspx