Image via Chicago Tribune
For the first time in Illinois history, stoners can legally buy weed, booze, and baked goods all under the same roof.
This unique new venture is made possible under a new partnership between adult-use dispensary Okay Cannabis and West Town Bakery, which serves alcohol in addition to baked goods. The two companies have built out a unique 12,000-square-foot venue in Wheeling, a suburb about 23 miles north of Chicago. West Town Bakery already has four locations in the Chicago area, and Okay Cannabis is planning to open two more dispensaries this year.
In order to comply with state regulations, the new bar and cafe area is separate from the weed sales counters, but customers can easily access both areas without leaving the premises. The dispensary area is limited to adults aged 21 and over, of course, but children and young adults are allowed to enter with their parents. The business also includes an event space that can be rented out for parties, and the owners are hoping to eventually open a cannabis consumption area as well.
And not only is Okay Cannabis the first Illinois store to combine weed and booze, it's also one of the state's first social equity cannabis businesses. Majority business owner Charles Mayfield, an African-American who is also interim COO for Chicago Public Schools, was one of 192 applicants who received a social equity license from the state last year. The state offered these licenses to individuals who had previously been arrested for minor pot crimes or who live in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
But as is often the case with state-sponsored social equity programs, most of the winning applicants have struggled to source the financing necessary to open their businesses. Federal law prevents banks from offering loans to weed companies, so entrepreneurs are forced to seek funding on their own. And even for those few that have found the cash, zoning and construction issues have caused additional delays. To date, only 6 of the state's 192 social equity licensees have managed to open their doors.
Illinois initially planned to award its social equity licenses shortly after the state legalized weed in 2020, but the complicated application process ended up dragging on for two additional years. The initial process required business owners to fill out an application that was literally hundreds of pages long. Then, after evaluating these massive applications, regulators selected winning businesses through a lottery.
Regulators are now taking steps to simplify the process in hopes of bringing more minority-owned businesses into the industry. The state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has scrapped its mammoth paper application and replaced it with a simplified online application. New businesses have until February 14 to submit their social equity applications under the revised program.
Okay Cannabis and West Town Bakery's new venture isn't just unique in Illinois, it's also pretty unusual for the US cannabis industry as a whole. Regulators in adult-use states have taken strict steps to separate alcohol and cannabis. Adult-use states that have allowed cannabis consumption lounges have banned booze sales at these locations, and the few restaurants that serve infused foods don't sell alcohol either. Denver recently opened a bar that serves THC-infused beers, but thanks to state regulations, all of its drinks are alcohol-free.