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Advocates push pot firms to commit to paying workers $20 an hour, sharing profits ahead of zoning meeting

While a flood of companies is pursuing locations for new pot shops across the city, only Nature’s Care has signed a community benefits agreement.

Douglas Kelly, president of the Cannabis Equity Illinois Alliance, pushes a community benefits agreement to cannabis firms appearing at a meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals on March 6, 2020.
Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

As a parade of pot company owners streamed into City Hall Friday morning to petition for zoning approval to open the city’s first recreational dispensaries, advocates urged them to commit to sharing the wealth from those prospective stores with minorities and communities that have borne the brunt of drug war-era enforcement.

“Despite the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition on black and brown communities, cannabis legalization is giving a virtual monopoly to white-owned and operated businesses for the first year of sales,” coalition member Jean Edrana told reporters.

In the lead-up to Friday’s cannabis-only meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, members of the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition pushed a community benefits agreement during a series of meetings the companies were required to hold as part of the zoning process.

The agreement requires firms to hire 75% of employees from areas that have been adversely impacted by past drug policies, pay them at least $20 an hour and create a system for profit sharing with community organizations.

While a flood of companies is pursuing locations for new pot shops across the city, only Nature’s Care has signed on. As part of that agreement, the firm agreed to many of the coalition’s original terms and committed to pay employees $16 an hour, Block Club reported.

Headquartered in Rolling Meadows and owned by New York-based Acreage Holdings, Nature’s Care is looking to open a store at 810 W. Randolph.

“At Nature’s Care, we believe that cannabis operators like ourselves have a responsibility to make sure that we make up for the impact that’s been done by the war on drugs,” said general manager Charles Amadin.

The company’s proposed location is in the 27th Ward controlled by Walter Burnett, who told the Sun-Times earlier this week that he was encouraged the firm signed onto the community benefits agreement. Of the other four sites being considered at Friday’s meeting, two others also fall in Burnett’s ward.

At the start of the meeting, he told board members to “consider the ones who do the most” when it comes to bolstering African American participation.