Victoria Williams has reason to be on a high.
As August was about to kick off, which happens to be National Black Business Month, the 37-year-old African-American single mom received a state transporter license which gives her the green light to carry cannabis products from cultivation centers, craft growers, processing plans and lab testing facilities to retail stores.
According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture website, on Aug. 2, nine such licenses were issued in its first round of adult use marijuana licenses. And according to Williams, who received notification July 15, there will be many more that follow. A transporter license, she noted, is one of the few in this burgeoning industry that does not directly involve the manufacturing, producing or selling of the products.
It’s obviously a critical license, as cannabis facilities are not allowed to transport their own products, in part to guard against employee theft, she added. So it’s no wonder the transporter license has been described by some in the industry as the glue that keeps the industry going.
“The state has already made over two billion in sales, a number that could possibly triple once things open up more following last year’s COVID restrictions,” Williams pointed out. “And that product has to be transported.”
Which means this local entrepreneur was not about to let any grass grow under her feet – yet again.
The single mom of three already has a huge jump on this potentially lucrative career. About a half dozen years ago she got interested from a West Coast friend in the cannabis industry and began making plans to “bring it back to this community” even before medicinal marijuana became legal in Illinois.
Williams is founder of ACC of Illinois – located on North Highland Avenue in Aurora – that opened in July of 2019, which seems to be among the first around here to offer education and hands-on training for those who wanted to get involved in the marijuana business.
One of the main goals, she said, was to address the lack of information about the industry within minority communities.
Williams insisted it was her knowledge of what has been going on that allowed her to “stay on the up and up” when it came to applying for and winning a transporter license. It meant submitting a ton of paperwork including a business plan, a training employee plan and security and record-keeping plan, and of course, paying the $2,500 application fee (half of the required amount because of “social equity” qualification) and another nearly $10,000 for the fee itself.
While many applicants dropped out during the COVID-19 pandemic because they were not able to hang on to their commercial property that is mandated for this sort of license, she said, “when the state reached out to me, I was prepared to go.”
Preparation is how Williams likes to roll.
She ran a daycare business for years in Chicago, she said, and then moved to the far East Side of Aurora five years ago so her autistic son, who graduated from Still Middle School this year, would have access to a better education.
Her oldest graduated from Waubonsie Valley High School this spring, so figuring out a way to support him through his soon-to-start four years at Northern Illinois University became another force in her drive to become a successful business owner.
Williams says she grew up “very poor … to teenage parents” in Englewood, where violence in her high school was common and where “classmates were killed outside our home.”
But that upbringing only fueled “my willingness to learn” and desire to avoid the pitfalls her own parents made so she could provide a better life for her kids.
Williams says she wants to inspire others – and employ them.
She’s now in the process of assembling a “proper team” for ACC of Illinois Transportation – unlike the training center, it is located in Chicago – and hopes to get things rolling, literally, by the first of September in a half-dozen unmarked Nissan vans.
“I hate driving myself,” Williams admitted, but plans to be behind the wheel for the first few months “because I want to know every aspect of the business.”
Cannabis remains a wide open field as Illinois continues to be a “fairly new market,” Williams says. And she wants to “make sure Aurora residents get their piece of the pie,” especially those in the Black community.
“This business has no color,” Williams said. “We all have opportunities but have to be willing to grab things and not become a product of your environment.”