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Majority Black owned Illinois cannabis company is opening more joints

Yvonne Boose
Ivy Hall in Montgomery, Illinois.

Recreational cannabis use in Illinois has been legal for a little over three years, but obtaining a license to sell hasn’t been easy for some. The Adult-Use Cannabis Social Equity Program was put into place to remedy this. Ivy Hall is the first business to open under this program. The 61% Black owned Company is quickly expanding its footprint.

The company has dispensaries in the Bucktown area of Chicago, Crystal Lake, Waukegan, Bolingbrook and Montgomery, with another opening soon in Glendale Heights.

Brianna Draksler is a general manager at Ivy Hall’s Montgomery location. She said the equity program gives opportunities to those who normally wouldn’t be able to sell the herb.

“There's so many of us that have been affected by, arrested for, for cannabis and that really limits the jobs that you can get and the things that you can do,” she said. "And so, to actually work at a place that, you know, ownership and people have been affected by this before, this is really cool.”

There are certain criteria that must be met to receive this license. One includes having at least 51% ownership of individuals who have a cannabis-related offense eligible for expungement or having a parent, child or spouse in the same circumstance.

Aireal Gomez works at the same location. Gomez has worked at and visited other dispensaries before. She said, to her, they seemed very transactional.

“They're very like come in, get your stuff and head out. Whereas here at Ivy Hall, we like a full experience,” she said. “We want you to come in check, take a look at all of our products, take a seat on the couch, read our books, touch the props that we have out, see our live flower wall, that's in the wall.”

The flower wall allows customers to see the products. Gomez said most people like to purchase directly from that space because they can see what the cannabis looks like.

The layout of the Montgomery store is as relaxing as the products it sells. Customers can lay back on the couch and enjoy the atmosphere. Items like yogurt covered raisins and other types of edibles were showcased in glass shelves and other tables throughout the store. But even with the welcoming environment, a few customers were reluctant to talk to the media.

“I'm worried about my job,” one man said.

He didn’t want to share his name. This customer said he uses the drug for anxiety, sleep and for recreational reasons. He said he prefers to do things naturally.

He also said the stigma around marijuana use is a generational thing.

“I think that'll go away after some time," he said. "I think people are starting to open up a little bit more to it."

Some of the products on display at Ivy Hall.
Some of the products on display at Ivy Hall.

Gomez said most people who come to the store are looking for a way to solve a physical ailment.

“A lot of people come in asking for pain, anxiety and insomnia [remedies],” Gomez said. “And we have products that they try, and they come back later thanking us because they finally got a good night's sleep, or they finally don't hurt. So, we want to make the stigma go away.”

“So many of us medicate with cannabis. And it's not always just recreational,” Draksler said. “Just because I don't have a med card doesn't mean I'm not medicating for something.”

Draksler said that lives are being improved because of cannabis use.

Susan Moser is looking for a cream to relieve her pain. She said she went to the doctor for help.
“They said they've given me all they can give me," she shared.
Moser said she understands the stigma surrounding the use of the drug.

“I think it's just privacy when people don't want [to] put it out there [to] whole world because there still is a stigma to it,” she said. “You know what I'm saying? Whether we want to admit it or not, whether it's legal or not, I'm sure there's still a lot of people out there who have a preconceived idea about it.”

But despite that, business is booming in the state. There’s money to be made, and in some cases, a little restorative justice.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.