African American Aldermen Try to Halt Sale of Legal Pot in Chicago

Sales of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over will begin in Chicago – and across the state – on Jan. 1. Or will they?

The Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus wants to delay the sale of legal weed in the city until next summer, citing a lack of opportunity for minorities when it comes to the first round of pot dispensary business.

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At a hearing Wednesday, caucus members said the city should delay sales until that issue is rectified.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said it won’t affect the city’s bottom line – he and his colleagues on the Black Caucus say the delay is a small price to pay to get it right.

“If we have to say ‘no’ to get something that makes sense for the equity of our community, than I have to say no to starting adult-use cannabis in the city of Chicago as of Jan. 1,” Ervin said.

“I am adamantly against our city participating in this industry without knowing a path forward where black and brown people can participate in this in an equitable fashion,” said Ald. Sophia Kind (4th Ward).

More: Your Guide to Marijuana in Illinois

A major component of the state legalization bill was to make sure minorities could have a good chunk of the new business. But the law only allows existing medical cannabis shops to sell recreational cannabis starting Jan. 1.

There are 55 in Illinois – including 11 in Chicago, where none are owned by minorities. Under the law, each of the state’s dispensaries are allowed to obtain a license to open another location and sell recreational pot. In a recent lottery, 31 dispensaries got licenses to sell recreational pot in Chicago. None of those, according to Ervin, are minority-owned.

Officials in Mayor Lightfoot’s office say they understand the concern, but say there will be opportunities among the 47 new licenses that will be issued before May 1. They believe a better way forward is to help minority businesses snag as many of those licenses as possible.

“We want to ensure that our residents have maximum opportunities to participate,” said Paul Stewart, a policy advisor to Lightfoot on this issue. “Through vocational training, through direct technical assistance of application preparation or other areas of training once the licenses are awarded, we want to ensure that any social equity applicant that is awarded a state license has the maximum assistance from the city of Chicago.”

A zoning ordinance that passed City Council in October divides the city into seven regions. As many as seven stores can go into each of those regions to spread the availability as equitably as possible. After May 1, that number increases to a maximum of 14 stores per region. There is an exclusion zone that prohibits sales in the Loop, along the Magnificent Mile and east of that area.

Before a shop can be opened, there’s an elaborate process to go through, including getting approved by each community and going before the obscure Zoning Board of Appeals.

Aldermen did not vote Wednesday on this bill to delay the implementation of legal weed – it was just a subject matter hearing. Proponents are hoping a vote will take place in committee and before the full City Council before the end of the month.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

Related stories:

Will Illinois’ Marijuana Law Meet its Social Equity Aims?

Driving While Stoned: Police Still Lack Reliable Test

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson Takes on New Role as Illinois’ ‘Cannabis Czar’

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