Recreational marijuana sales will start January 1 without any Black dispensary owners
Crusader Staff Report
In a heated meeting at City Hall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday, December 18, ignored concerns of Black aldermen and blocked their attempt to delay marijuana sales to July 2020.
The move has sewn a rift between the city’s first Black female mayor and the Chicago Black Caucus in a battle that has raised concerns about Lightfoot’s loyalties, and the city’s commitment to ensure the diversity of owners operating recreational marijuana dispensaries.
Tensions had been growing between the mayor and the Black Caucus which vowed to fight the proposed ordinance that they say would shut out opportunities for Blacks while helping existing white marijuana dispensaries get even richer.
Some Black aldermen this week stuck together in an intense effort to delay the sale of recreational marijuana by six months to address their concerns about the lack of Black ownership of dispensaries in Chicago.
On Wednesday, their efforts fizzled after Lightfoot led a successful effort to block that effort. The City Council voted 29-19 to pass an ordinance that would allow marijuana sales to begin January 1 as originally planned.
Some of the Black aldermen who supported the delay, reversed their stance amid last-minute talks.
Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) expressed confidence that he had the 26 votes to defeat the proposal, but Lightfoot’s staffers in the final hours were busy urging aldermen to oppose the delay, telling them that Governor Jay Pritzker made promises to gradually increase diversity among recreational marijuana dispensary owners.
Meanwhile, Black aldermen on the floor at City Hall doubled down on their concerns as the City Council grew closer to voting on the proposal.
“What you are witnessing today is a travesty in our community” because African Americans will not benefit from the first wave of licenses, Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) told his colleagues as debate began.
Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) said, “This has been percolating for months, yet we are told to wait our turn. The only people who benefit from this deal are white people. We get thrown in jail and they get thrown in the bank.”
“If we’re going to cave into this, then we don’t need to have a Black Caucus,” said Alderman David Moore (17th).
One day before the vote, Lightfoot on Tuesday released a statement, saying she “repeatedly asked the members of the Black Caucus to devise a strategy that addresses equity. Instead, we have primarily been met with a litany of complaints, but no tangible solutions. Crossing our arms and walking away is a tactic, not a strategy and is not only unacceptable but irresponsible.”
Lightfoot said the delay would have unintended consequences, including “fueling illegal sales; placing the start of a new industry at the same time when our full public safety resources must be dedicated to combatting summer violence; and most importantly, stripping money from the social equity funds intended to benefit” Black and brown entrepreneurs.
Toi Hutchinson, a senior adviser to Governor J.B. Pritzker on cannabis, said the delay “would do significant damage – and do far more harm than good in actually achieving equity.”
Black aldermen had hoped their efforts to delay marijuana sales would send a strong statement to Springfield and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who earlier this week failed to appease the Black Caucus with an idea that the city floated, of the city growing its own recreational marijuana to give minorities a chance to learn the business and share the wealth.
But questions remain as to whether a municipal government should get a license to grow its own marijuana business.
“It’s a diversion. It’s a horrible idea,” Beale told the Sun Times. If the city is gonna get in the business of cannabis, the city might as well get in the business of having a brewery. The city of Chicago has no business even thinking about getting involved in the cannabis industry,” Beale said.
On Tuesday, the Lightfoot administration reportedly circulated a memo to convince African-American aldermen to drop their threat to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago. The memo included a promise to provide technical assistance and a “direct financial commitment” from the city to any social equity applicant who receives a state license to sell recreational marijuana in the next round of applications to be awarded on May 1.
Concerns from Black aldermen had been brewing since the summer, when Governor Jay Pritzker signed historic legislation making the sale of recreational marijuana legal.
But diversity concerns grew with the realization that none of Illinois’ owners of 55 medical marijuana dispensaries are Black. In Chicago, Black aldermen are disappointed that the owners of 11 medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to immediately pivot to recreational marijuana sales and would have the exclusive right to open a second location until late spring, when new businesses would finally get a chance to bid.
There is concern that some of these owners will operate recreational marijuana dispensaries in predominately Black wards in just another example of affluent whites profiting at the expense of low-income neighborhoods.
“It’s very critical that our communities have the parity and equity that is necessary for everybody to participate,” said Chicago Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) Tuesday.
“This program started off, in our opinion, on the wrong foot and we were trying to correct that. We’re hopeful that the state will make some actions that make this equitable to all communities in our state—not just one select group of individuals.”