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Black Caucus chair again threatens vote on plan to delay recreational pot sales until July 1

Ald. Jason Ervin said he is still seeking a “decent level of ownership” in an industry that currently lacks owners of color in Illinois.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, is threatening to play hardball in his demand for a minority ownership stake in the recreational marijuana business in Chicago.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus has an ace in his back pocket to push his demand for a minority ownership stake in the recreational marijuana market.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) is threatening to play hardball — by forcing a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting on his plan to delay the start date for selling legal weed in Chicago from Jan. 1 to July 1.

Ervin isn’t saying for certain that he will do that over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s strenuous objections. And he’s not giving specifics on how he thinks people of color could end up with ownership stakes in the cannabis industry sooner than planned under state law.

He’s simply leaving his options open by invoking City Council Rule 41, which allows aldermen to force a vote on legislation languishing in committee for 60 days, provided they receive a simple majority of 26 votes. But, in order to do that, they must notify the city clerk five days before the City Council meeting.

The mere threat, however, gives him leverage in negotiations that will continue in the run-up to Wednesday’s meeting.

“We continue to have conversations with the state and with the mayor’s office on the matter. … But we wanted to preserve our ability to call the matter for a vote, if we felt it necessary,” said Ervin, whose parliamentary ploy was first reported by The Daily Line.

Ervin isn’t the only one playing political hardball.

Late Friday, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), called a meeting for 2 p.m. Tuesday of the Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity that she chairs to consider Ervin’s proposed six-month delay. Austin could not be reached for comment.

She could either seek to vote down Ervin’s ordinance or approve it, but not call it for a vote in the full council. Either way, the 60-day clock would start again, potentially averting his power play.

Before Austin’s move, Ervin said he would only voluntarily call off the floor fight if there is a “solution that works for our community.”

He noted that African Americans who bore the brunt of the war on drugs have “zero representation” among the owners of 11 medical marijuana dispensaries that would get a running start when recreational weed sales begin Jan. 1.

Those 11 medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to immediately pivot to recreational marijuana sales during the first year of legalization and have the exclusive right to open a second location until late spring, when new businesses would finally get a chance to bid.

“The gravy train is set in Chicago for 11 dispensaries. That is not a gravy train for the vast representation of our city,” he said.

Asked what it would take to call off the vote, Ervin declined to give specifics.

“We walked into this seeking a decent level of ownership for members of our community in a program — if you want to call it a gravy train — that has left a significant portion of the citizenry of our city out of it,” he said.

Ervin was asked whether he has the 26 votes he needs to delay the sale of recreational marijuana in Chicago until July 1 over the mayor’s objections. Two months ago, he threatened to stall Lightfoot’s plan to establish zoning ground rules for the sale of recreational marijuana only to let those rules go through.

“I’m not trying to put anybody in any predicaments right now. But I would not move if we did not feel the support was there for our position,” he said.

During taping of the WBBM-AM Radio program, “At Issue,” which airs at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Lightfoot challenged Ervin to “come up with a strategic plan — not tactical maneuvers” to ensure minority ownership.

“One of the things that I think would be helpful is for the city itself to get into the cultivation market. We could form a co-op — looking at vacant buildings, looking at vacant land —giving opportunity for black and brown folks to learn the business run by an expert, then turn that business over to them over time,” the mayor said.

“It’s extraordinarily expensive to get into the cultivation business. But it’s the most lucrative part of the business. The other parts of it are retail. But, also trucking [and] banking. There’s lots of ways that we can bring black and brown folks into this market. But what we need is a strategic vision for that — not just tactical maneuvers to say `no.’ ”