A proposed ordinance being pushed by the City Council’s Black Caucus to delay recreational weed sales until July 1 will be discussed at a hearing Wednesday.
While the hearing will force the measure into the spotlight, the proposed ordinance is not set to be voted on or advanced to the full City Council. Without Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s support, the proposal is considered a long shot to be taken up for a vote in a separate committee meeting and advanced to the full City Council on Dec. 18.
The group’s chairman, Ald. Jason Ervin (28), said the caucus is concerned about the lack of minority ownership in the nascent industry.
Ervin said the absence of African-American owners at the city’s dispensary lottery last month was alarming. Operators who did participate in the lottery chose to open recreational dispensaries in largely black neighborhoods on the Southeast and Far South Sides last or not at all, he noted.
Medical marijuana companies were granted the first wave of recreational marijuana licenses. The rollout process is outlined by new state law passed under Gov. JB Pritzker.
Introduced at City Council Oct. 16, the proposed ordinance to halt recreational weed sales was referred to the Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity. That committee, chaired by Ald. Carrie Austin (34), has not met on its own since being formed by new Mayor Lori Lightfoot in May, although it did hold a joint-committee meeting with the Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight in October.
Lightfoot doesn’t support the Black Caucus’ push, mayoral spokesperson Lauren Huffman said.
“While we share many of the same goals as the Black Caucus in terms of creating equity in this new industry, the Mayor cannot support the ordinance in question, as delaying sales in Chicago would only fuel black market activities and diminish funding available to future social equity applicants,” Huffman said.
Ervin said he will wait until after the hearing to decide how to proceed. He said he isn’t resigned about the proposed ordinance’s chances of advancing to a City Council vote.
“I think we need to see what happens at the hearing,” Ervin said. “I’m not resigned to that. We’re having a meeting on Dec. 4 and Council is supposed to meet on the 18th. A lot can change from now [to] then.”
In addition to the 20 member Black Caucus co-sponsoring the measure, two other aldermen, Raymond Lopez (15) and James Cappleman (46), told Block Club they would join in support if it were to ever come up for a vote. “They’re trying to find a way for this new industry to be fair and equitable,” Lopez said.
“If they are standing unified for this,” Cappleman said, he will “support them with my vote.”
“When I see every single person in the Black Caucus all voting for something and I’m inclined not to, it gives me pause to think, what are they seeing that I’m not seeing as a caucasian man. So I listen very carefully to what the Black Caucus says, they have a viewpoint that I think needs to be highlighted,” Cappleman said.
“A disproportionate number of caucasians are getting licenses and again the African American community is getting left out. If you want to address the tale of two cities, we’re going to have to address the lack of equity.” Cappleman said.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), who co-sponsored the mayor’s bill that established zoning rules for recreational dispensaries, said the lottery gave him pause. But he doesn’t support delaying the date of recreational cannabis sales.
“Looking at the way the lottery went, it does affect my thinking on it as well. So I’m always open to have the conversation.” he said, “As a person of color, of course you’re going to feel a certain kind of way about it.”
“However, I do not agree with stopping it until July 1,” Vasquez said. “We actually could be worse off by doing that, because those licenses could then go to the suburbs, and the city could miss out on chances to earn revenue that’s needed.”
Rather than a ban on sales, Vasquez suggested other ways to address the lack of equity.
“I think where we can find social equity is in the public consumption licenses,” and making sure that the businesses that get those licenses, “have employee ownership agreements or project labor agreements where they’re allowed the ability to unionize,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez also suggested creating a city program to allow those who run an illegal cannabis business to become legitimate, legal entrepreneurs.
Vasquez said he understands the desire to delay sales, but he has doubts that would result in a greater number of minority-owned dispensaries.
“If we started in July, and the social equity players get in, my gut tells me we’re going to find a lot of white owned businesses that know how to check the boxes to meet social equity requirements,” he said.
Austin was placed in charge of the newly created Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity in May after Lightfoot removed her as Chair of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations.
Despite being under federal investigation, Austin has regularly attended City Council meetings. She has not been charged with a crime and has said she is innocent of any wrongdoing.