Adult use cannabis sales in Chicago will go live as scheduled on January 1, despite an effort by some aldermen to delay the rollout by six months. After contentious debate Wednesday, the City Council voted to move ahead as planned.
Illinois made history as the first state to legalize adult use cannabis sales by legislature, and did so with social equity provisions at its core. But that has not prevented pushback regarding how, exactly, those equity goals will be met.
Ald. Jason Ervin introduced a measure in October that sought to delay adult use cannabis sales to allow more time for minority-owned cannabis businesses to get licensed and set up, and, by extension, compete. Ervin and the other members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus feel that the legislation legalizing adult use in the state doesn’t go far enough to lift up minority communities.
Wednesday’s council meeting saw a passionate and combative debate. The Black Caucus is particularly upset that every one of the 11 businesses licensed to begin adult use sales in Chicago on January 1 is white-owned. Illinois law granted the first adult use licenses to companies that are already part of the current medical cannabis program, with a second round of licenses, for which social equity applicants will be prioritized, to be doled out in mid-2020.
“The only people who benefit are the white people,” Ald. Leslie Hairston said during Wednesday’s meeting, referencing cannabis legalization in Illinois. Hairston represents two South Side communities.
Ald. Andre Vasquez, who represents neighborhoods on the city’s North Side, said he supports efforts to make the cannabis industry more equitable, but added that delaying sales until July 1 wouldn’t change anything.
“People from this council should have spoken at the state level,” Vasquez said, “to be proactive, not reactive.”
Ald. Sophia King—a member of the black caucus—pushed back, arguing that she’s “never seen anything start off on the wrong foot and end up right.”
As Lightfoot looked to hold a vote to kill the ordinance, she cut Ervin, the primary proponent of the delay, off. Ervin lashed out, telling Lightfoot, “If you need it that bad, take it.”
Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell weighed in on Twitter, taking aim at those who wanted to delay sales. “I am sure that everyone involved in the drafting of the most equity-centric piece of cannabis legalization in the country […] is stunned at the level of ignorance and the number of falsehoods being spewed at City Council right now,” he wrote.
Ervin’s ordinance narrowly passed out of Tuesday’s Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity, by a vote of 10-9. Staffers for Lightfoot failed to quash the measure in that committee, but managed to wrangle enough votes on Wednesday.
Among efforts to assuage the caucus, the Lightfoot administration Tuesday passed around a memo that detailed equity discussions Lightfoot’s office has had with state officials. Lightfoot wrote that the city will provide financial assistance to businesses who are granted social equity licenses. She’s also looking at creating a city-owned cultivation co-op.
After Tuesday’s vote, Lightfoot, in a scathing statement, criticized the aldermen who voted in favor of delaying sales. She argued it would have a litany of unintended consequences, including “fueling illegal sales” and “stripping money from the social equity funds intended to benefit Black and Brown entrepreneurs.”
“I have repeatedly asked the members of the Black Caucus to devise a strategy that addresses equity,” Lightfoot wrote. “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.”