Since Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the suspension of 75 conditional adult use cannabis dispensing organization licenses on April 29, more than 700 applicants have been left in the lurch.
Chris Visco, co-founder and CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers, is one of those 700 applicants.
Dubbed the “queen of cannabis” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Visco owns a chain of three dispensaries in Pennsylvania (Sellersville, Abington, and Malvern) and is an official Illinois equity applicant.
Her Illinois dispensary brand, The Yard, is vying for ten of the 75 licenses that eventually will be awarded.
In December, she employed ten social equity staff members from Chicago as part of the application process
Since then, Visco has been paying those ten employees in anticipation of receiving at least one if not more licenses and opening a dispensary.
“It’s not about staffing up,” Visco said. “It’s that you can’t even apply without proving who they are, where they live, and if they qualify. So it’s six months of payroll for people you have nowhere to employ.”
While still training her employees so they will be ready if and when The Yard receives a licensing, Visco also has had her employees delivering meals to food banks in the Chicagoland area.
On May 14, The Yard employees also dropped off eighty meals to frontline workers.
“I’m investing in them (her employees),” Visco said. “I’m having them work in the community. And I’m investing in the community, so if we win (licensing), we’re ready to go. And we’ve already been a good partner and leader, and we have a trained staff.”
Visco is currently paying about a half-million dollars in salary for the ten workers with nowhere to work, though a few workers are training at the Pennsylvania dispensaries.
“It would have been okay and a bigger investment if we didn’t have the pandemic,” Visco said, “because then we could have used them for marketing purposes, community events, and speaking to alderman. But instead, I am paying them high salaries to stay at home. We have nowhere for them to go.”
The state is allowing dispensary applicants to let go of their employees because of the pandemic and hardship, but Visco plans to keep all ten of her employees.
Kiwaun Williams, who lives in Garfield Park, is one of those employees.
“Not knowing (what’s going to happen) is hard,” Williams said, “but I feel good about the situation…I feel like this is more of a family. I didn’t know what to expect or what I’d get out of coming to work for TerraVida Holistic Centers until the licensing was approved. I will say I’ve learned a lot about the industry, and am given the tools needed to be successful in it. THC is forward thinking, and cares for both the staff and the patients.”
Williams was hired as management for The Yard in Illinois.
“I can honestly say I have yet to meet an owner as passionate and genuine as Chris Visco,” Williams said. “I believe in her mission, and she reminds me every day through actions why I chose to follow her across the country.”
The licensing requirement have been suspended for the duration of the ongoing Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations, or until IDFPR otherwise announces a new date.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in the application review process,” said Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor for Cannabis Control to Gov. Pritzker. “This executive order will help ensure that we continue to build out this industry in a deliberate and equity-centric manner.”
IDFPR will provide a public notice announcing the new date when licenses will be issued and will seek to do so as soon as feasible.
“Because they didn’t announce, no one knows what they could get (in licensing),” Visco said. “I could get zero. I could get three. I could get one, two, seven or ten. No one has any idea. We could all get zero.”
If the state does not award The Yard at least one license, Visco will have to pack up and go home, despite spending a half a million in payroll and a half a million in cost.
“They’re allowing me to not hire people,” she said. “They’re allowing me to not risk any more money. I am choosing to do so because it’s the right thing to do by the people in Chicago.”
How long can Visco continue waiting?
“I don’t understand why there would be a problem cutting a decision this summer,” Visco said. “Right now, my expectations are that I am going to pay them through September. If the state comes out and says you’re going to know in October, November, or December, and we have a guarantee, I will continue to pay them. But if they say this could go on for two years, I probably can’t afford to do it.”