Legalizing pot in Illinois will harm minority-owned businesses and communities

Even if they are able to make initial investments in marijuana businesses, we’ve seen in other states that many of those businesses are quickly absorbed and squeezed out by Big Marijuana.

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Lead grower Dave Wilson cares for marijuana plants in the “Flower Room” at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion. | AP Photo AP Photo

In a weekend editorial, Rich Miller pointed out in the Chicago Sun-Times that “some very wealthy companies are descending upon Illinois to get a piece of the legalization pie.”

He’s absolutely right.

It’s Big Marijuana that will benefit from legalization — not small business owners and not Illinoisans.

We’ve seen the same thing happen in every other state that have pushed for legalization. Marijuana is big business. These companies push out the little guy, work to make huge profits off an addiction-for-profit industry, and average citizens are the ones left to pay the price.

We can’t let that happen in Illinois.

With under two weeks left until the end of the session, social justice has rightly been a main focus of discussion surrounding marijuana. But legalized and commercialized marijuana has not lead to better equity outcomes in states that have legalized marijuana — a big reason why the Illinois NAACP has been vocally opposing legalization.

Not surprisingly, less than 20% of marijuana business owners identify as racial minorities, including approximately just 4% who identify as black. Colorado has been a major failure on this front and refuses to release the ethnic background of minority-owned marijuana businesses in their state.

Financial barriers like legal fees, insurance, taxes, licensing and more can quickly balloon costs well past $1 million — meaning that marijuana policies are putting financial gains well out of reach for many in low income communities.

Even if they are able to make initial investments in marijuana businesses, we’ve seen in other states that many of those businesses are quickly absorbed and squeezed out by big marijuana.

And I sincerely doubt any marijuana legalization language passed in Illinois would prohibit immediate sale of a license.

Instead, what we’ll see in Illinois is businesses like Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol and Big Pharma coming in to make big profits off a harmful drug — targeting minorities, youth and low-income neighborhoods to make big bucks for themselves.

Marijuana might be newly legal, but these companies will be using the same old playbook to hook a new generation on their highly-potent, addictive product.

Need examples of what big businesses are investing in marijuana?

Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested $1.8 billion in weed. The ex-Big Pharma exec who helped bring OxyContin to market has co-founded a new marijuana company.

Other Big Pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson and Novartis are also investing heavily in marijuana. And Constellation Brands, the giant alcohol company that owns brands like Corona, announced late last year that they invested $4 billion in the industry.

If anyone thinks that they don’t want a return on investment, they are mistaken.

So when even Rich Miller — a major proponent of legal marijuana is citing concerns that big businesses will be the ones to profit, we know it’s a real problem. Senate Bill 7 is not good policy, and it won’t be good for Illinois.

If lawmakers in Springfield pass marijuana legalization, it won’t benefit minority-owned businesses or communities who have been disproportionally harmed by the war on drugs.

Instead, weed will exacerbate drug-related problems in those communities, while wealthy investors and big businesses will make massive profits of Illinoisans and off a harmful, addictive drug.

Omari Prince, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Illinois state director

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Extreme measures necessary to correct the Civilian Police Accountability Council

The Sun-Times’ May 14 story about the proposed Civilian Police Accountability Council, (Emboldened Ramirez-Rosa to re-introduce most extreme civilian police review plan) misrepresents the proposed ordinance and its supporters.

By describing it as the “most extreme” of the proposals being considered, and quoting an alderman who said its supporters are “hateful of the police,” the story downplays Chicago’s urgent need for meaningful police reform.

The system of police accountability was not overhauled after the murder of Laquan McDonald, because there never was accountability.

The Independent Police Review Authority (IRPA) and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) were both run by mayoral appointees, and had no true power: neither was accountable to the people of Chicago.

All that was achieved was the replacing of one meaningless string of letters with another.

By replacing COPA and the Police Board, CPAC would only increase the policing budget by $15 million, a pittance compared with the $95 million budgeted for the new police training facility on the West Side orthe $600 million the city has paid out to settle police misconduct cases since 2004.

But cost is not the main issue, and neither is “hatred” of the police.Black and brown Chicagoans are tired of being shot, tortured and imprisoned by police who act as if they are above the law.

The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression has developed the only proposal that would give citizens democratically elected, community control; with authority to investigate misconduct and hire and fire the police superintendent.

CPAC is now endorsed by 16 City Council members, with over 50,000 supporters.

Extreme measures are needed to fix this deadly institution.

Lesley Williams, Evanston

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