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First All-BIPOC, All-LGBTQ+-owned Marijuana Dispensary Opens in Chicago

A woman sits on the floor in a dark room smoking a joint. She is wearing jeans, sneakers, and has wavy dark hair.

On April 15, Chicago’s North Side residents were graced with the opening of the first all-LGBTQ+, BIPOC-owned marijuana dispensary. The dispensary is named after a new weed company, Sway, founded by Edie Moore and spouses Art Johnston and José “Pepe” Peña.

Igniting Positive Change

Peña is a Cuban immigrant who runs a popular gay bar, Sidetrack, with his husband, Johnston. The couple are well-known LGBTQ+ civil rights activists in the area. Moore is a Black veteran known for her years spent fighting for equity in the state’s legal marijuana industry. 

The founders say that Sway is one of the only queer-owned cannabis businesses in the country. Located in the heart of Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood — a vibrant LGBTQ+ community with a thriving cultural scene — they hope that Sway will swerve as a beacon of diversity and acceptance in the city. Embracing the neighborhood’s spirit of inclusivity, Moore says that all three founders  share a “commitment to equity, a passion for safe and accessible cannabis, and a recognition of a need for more safe spaces in Chicago — especially for LGBTQ+ folks and people of color.”

Kevin Hausewirth, an entrepreneur and co-owner of the new dispensary, notes that before Illinois legalized marijuana, many Black and Brown people within the state faced incarceration for their use of the substance. This was especially harmful to LGBTQ+ people of color, as many sought the substance to help them manage the discomfort caused by HIV and AIDS medications. The state is attempting the mitigate damage caused by the older legistlation with their Cannabis Social Equity Program, which connects “people and communities that have been historically impacted by arrests and imprisonment for cannabis offenses to opportunities to participate in the legal cannabis industry.”

Peña spoke to the importance of inclusivity in a statement made after the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals signed off on the dispensary last year. “Together, we’re building a safe, welcoming space that will positively contribute to the future of one of the country’s few remaining queer enclaves,” Peña said.

Looking Forward

The opening of this all-minority, all-LGBTQ+-owned marijuana dispensary marks the long-overdue diversification of the cannabis industry. To further this aim, Moore, Johnston, and Peña aim to source as many products as possible from BIPOC-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, and woman-owned companies. Additionally, the company plans to open two more dispensaries elsewhere in Chicago with other dispensary co-owners.

Through intentional inclusion at every point of contact — from cannabis growers to dispensary employees — Sway has the potential to make a noticeable difference in diversifying the Illinois cannabis industry. Their success could inspire similar business models across the country, leading to a more equitable cannabis market overall.


Lawrence Chijioke
Lawrence Chijioke
Lawrence Chijioke is a medical student, visual artist, and writer based in Lagos State, Nigeria. He loves everything about the queer community and is actively involved in fighting homophobia against queer Africans through his art works and write-ups. In his leisure time, he plays the violin and listens to classical music.