Chicago is ignoring racial equity by moving ahead with recreational pot sales on Jan. 1

For the sake of justice and equity, Illinois and Chicago must do what’s right for communities of color devastated by the war on drugs.

SHARE Chicago is ignoring racial equity by moving ahead with recreational pot sales on Jan. 1
Cannabis plants.

Cannabis plants.

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Recently, the Chicago City Council voted to move forward with the sale of legalized cannabis on Jan. 1, disregarding the need for racial and social equity in the process. To right the course, Gov. J.B. Pritzker must fulfill his offer to provide at least two more medicinal social equity licenses to underrepresented groups in Chicago.

I commend the aldermanic Black Caucus for expecting better from our city and continuing to demand a vote to delay sales until equity can be ensured. Our state vowed to go further than other states and create recreational marijuana laws that put racial equity at the forefront. That vow has gone unfulfilled: The 11 firms currently authorized to sell recreational marijuana in Chicago are owned by white males. The decision to continue with marijuana sales in January is only the most recent example of this continued economic scourge on communities of color.Our criminal legal system has done this for decades.

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With the City Council’s decision, Illinois took a step toward the same racial disparities other states continue to experience after legalizing cannabis. In Washington, the first state to legalize marijuana, black people were 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis prior to legalization. After legalization, that number rose to five times more likely, according to a study in Substance Use & Misuse, a journal funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.

If Illinois is to value justice and equity, it must do what’s right, right now. Yes, marijuana taxes have the potential to bring millions of dollars into our state economy — money we desperately need. Yet it is wrong to rush legalized sales at the expense of communities that the war on drugs has already stunted. It is deeply unjust (though sadly, nothing new) to guarantee that white people are the only people who can legally profit off an industry that has disproportionately criminalized people of color for decades.

Illinois and Chicago have the opportunity to be shining examples for our nation by crafting powerful policies that promote rather than destroy social equity. For those who think we can’t afford to slow the process, the short-term monetary gains will likely translate into more prison cells for young people of color. It’s time we dignify our legacy by refusing to allow greed to justify racism.

Elena Quintana,Ph.D
Executive director, Adler University Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice

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