Having a pot-related arrest or conviction used to be a liability for Illinoisans seeking employment. Now, a criminal record might lead to a job in the cannabis industry.
HempStaff, a recruitment and training agency in Miami, launched a new division last month to help cannabis firms in Illinois and five other states hire employees that meet certain social equity requirements, including those with pot offenses on their records.
HempStaff hopes to help those folks “find their dream opportunities,” a news release from the company says. But there’s also benefits for employers.
Under Illinois’ legalization law, budding “ganjapreneurs” vying for licenses to sell and grow recreational weed can get an edge in the application process if most of their employees have been arrested for or convicted of a cannabis offense that’s eligible for expungement.
Arrest records for possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis — which will soon be the legal limit — can be automatically expunged under the law. For cases involving between 30 and 500 grams, individuals will need to petition the court for expungement. On average, one gram is enough for three joints.
In addition, companies can get a leg up in the process if their workers live in an area “disproportionately impacted” by past drug policies or have an affected family member.
HempStaff will assist Illinois firms in hiring those workers so the businesses can qualify as social equity applicants and score additional points in the process of getting a precious pot license — even if the owners themselves don’t meet the criteria.
HempStaff CEO James Yagielo said qualifying as a social equity applicant “could very well be the difference between having enough points over someone or not.”
While no local positions are posted on the company’s job board, Yagielo said the Illinois firms that have already contracted HempStaff plan to apply for the next round of 75 conditional dispensary licenses that will be issued by May.
The sponsors of the state pot law sought to use the legislation to boost minority participation in the industry in part as an attempt to right some of the wrongs of the drug war. (Firms owned by individuals who have lived in an impacted area or have cannabis-related offenses on their records also can qualify as social equity applicants.)
The provision that grants social equity status to employers has, however, drawn scrutiny from members of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus, who want to see more done to bolster minority ownership. The caucus went as far as to introduce an ordinance that would prevent recreational pot sales from starting until July in the city.
Alex Sims, a spokeswoman for the caucus, said last week that members intend to advance the measure if the City Council fails to strengthen the state’s equity considerations, although it’s unclear what specific issues they want addressed.
Sponsors of the state legislation said the credit given to firms for employing social equity candidates gives an incentive to actually hire minority workers.
Despite the concerns raised by the Black Caucus, Yagielo said HempStaff hasn’t “received much pushback.”
“I think that’s because we’re getting people jobs from that area,” Yagielo said. “We’re only following the regulations set by the state.”
HempStaff, which also offers dispensary training in Illinois, isn’t the only firm advertising jobs for social equity applicants. Though the names of the employers aren’t listed, there are online postings seeking a trimmer and a gardener, among other jobs.
Yagielo said he anticipates Illinois’ cannabis job market will “explode next year” but noted employers are largely in a holding pattern, waiting for regulators to make licenses available.
“Right now, it is kind of a hurry up and wait,” he said. “Some people will put the top guys on retainer, but no one’s expanding or employing until they actually have that license in hand.”