The City of Jacksonville is one vote away from having an adult use cannabis dispensary. The City Council will hear a second reading of an ordinance for rezoning 1112 Veterans Drive for special use on Monday night. The property was purchased by Kenny Pleasant of Bellevue, Washington who hopes to open his first dispensary in Illinois.
Pleasant and his partner Michael Beraki of Kush 21 have 10 major cannabis retail shops in the State of Washington. Pleasant met Beraki when he was a tenant in one of his buildings and Beraki asked him to jump aboard a new venture in the retail adult-use cannabis industry. Pleasant says he initially refused: “With [cannabis] having a negative stigma, I, at the time, was vehemently opposed to it. No way. I had my own views about what the effects had been and were on the Black community.”
Pleasant says his negative views and the connotations on the usage of cannabis changed once he spent more time on the inside of the industry and got more involved as a business consultant proposing business modeling and best practices: “I saw it from a different perspective. Seeing a lot of the people that were consumers were older, elderly people, some people that were suffering from different medical conditions – anxiety, stress, PTSD, cancer, etc. and then as I spent time in the first dispensary, I actually noticed there was a large demographic was quite different than I assumed most people perceive it to be and that actually provided a lot of benefits to a lot of different people.”
Pleasant says from a business perspective he believes the cannabis industry as an entry way for more minority-owned wealth in the country. He says with more minority-owned wealth in the United States, it can enact more social change that he believes the country needs.
Pleasant says that he and Beraki had a large amount of communities and locations to choose from in Illinois for selecting where they wanted to place their cannabis dispensary. He says he was initially hesitant to come to Illinois and West Central Illinois specifically after reading about the history of “sundown towns” in the area. Pleasant says when he made phone calls to the municipal leaders in the City of Jacksonville, he changed his mind about coming here: “It was quite different than what I expected. They were extremely friendly, helpful, [and] welcoming. I live in a large metropolitan area outside of Seattle in Bellevue, Washington and you rarely get that sort of intimate access or connection to city officials here. This was something that was very meaningful and welcoming.”
Pleasant says he learned of the 1112 Veterans Drive property from those initial phone calls who placed him into contact with the property owner Dan Kindred to talk about a potential lease or sale. Pleasant says if another community came along and possibly offered a better deal, he would not change his mind but stay with Jacksonville as a place to locate the business.
He says he knows that some residents have concerns about a cannabis dispensary coming to town. Pleasant attended the Jacksonville Plans Commission meeting late last month and heard a few of those concerns, who are worried that the business will court a bad element to town or increase other drug use. Pleasant says that his business model has safety at the top of mind that goes above and beyond the State of Illinois’ heavy regulations on the cannabis industry: “The family together operates 10 dispensaries in Washington. We are experienced and we understand security and safety. That has always been at the top of the priority list. In terms of how a company is structured and the values, the customers and so forth – we put safety and security and community at the top of the list. Then, we work down from there. We’re not saying that we’re sacrificing customer service or any of the other things that come with running a good business. I feel like having those things at the top of the list offers a benefit to the customer, as well. Safety and security is always the number one thing we focus on.”
Pleasant says that the mental fallacy that a dispensary will create an influx of new crime in Jacksonville is not the case. He says there have been little to no incidents of crime at their 10 retail locations in Washington. Pleasant says that if people want adult-use cannabis they need only to drive to Springfield or Quincy to get it anyway and that use of cannabis isn’t a new introduction to town: “Whatever substance or behaviors that people are doing or people are worried about already exist. It’s just a 20-minute drive to go to Springfield to get the product. We aren’t introducing [harder] drugs to the community. If people could partition that stigma or past experience that they have with this highly regulated industry of legalized cannabis, then maybe they can see the different perspective. This isn’t a store opening up and selling a wide selection of drugs. We have highly regulated cannabis from seed to fill, so we know exactly where it was planted, how it got there, how it was processed, along with every part of the process and the transaction is heavily monitored by the State of Illinois.”
Pleasant says that he and his partners are not just out-of-state venture capitalists looking to swoop in and make money on the backs of the people of West Central Illinois. He says that he and his partners want to become strategic community partners and give back in different, beneficial ways: “We don’t just want to be a store that comes in and makes huge profits on the community, but provides and looks for ways that we can help improve the community in different plans and goals for the city, which giving money back through partnering, sponsoring, helping are some of those ways. I’m real big on education and self-education. Anything that we can do to provide a value and be an asset to the community. My personal core value is giving and providing for education. Those types of opportunities we welcome and we look for. It’s not a publicity thing. It’s something that we personally feel good about anytime we can provide value.”
Pleasant says he and partner Michael Beraki are family men and hope to provide a proud example and good business ideals to their families as well as support members of their families. Beraki is an African immigrant from the country Eritrea, a small country on the Horn of Africa, bordered by Ethiopia and the Red Sea. Beraki came to the U.S. in 2002 at the age of 16 leaving his family behind, when he was working as a translator for a captain in the U.S. Army who offered to sponsor him and bring him to the U.S. Beraki has successfully ran businesses over the last two decades in Washington. According to an article in Marijuana Venture, Beraki hopes to expand his brand into Illinois in order to propel his business into creating a national line of CBD products.
The Kush 21 stores in Washington have received high marks for their security, marketing, and ease of use for customers. According to Marijuana Venture, the highly-rated customer loyalty program offers a wide variety of cannabis products catered directly toward the clientele in each community that they serve.
Pleasant says he and hopefully Beraki will be in attendance on Monday night for the final vote on the dispensary special use permit from the Jacksonville City Council.