City Council committee votes to delay sales of legal weed until July 1

Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) is furious African Americans have “zero representation” among ownership of 11 dispensaries.

SHARE City Council committee votes to delay sales of legal weed until July 1
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity, and Ald. David Moore (17th) re-count the votes on an ordinance delaying recreational marijuana sales in Chicago for six months. The final tally in favor: 10 to 9.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity, and Ald. David Moore (17th) re-count the votes on an ordinance delaying recreational marijuana sales in Chicago for six months. The final tally in favor: 10 to 9.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chicago sales of recreational marijuana would be pushed back until July 1 under an ordinance that squeaked through a City Council committee Tuesday at the behest of black aldermen demanding diversity among dispensary ownership.

The 10 to 9 vote by the City Council’s Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity was a political embarrassment to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose administration tried desperately to appease the Black Caucus during negotiations that continued during the meeting.

Aldermen voting for the six-month delay were: Sophia King (4th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Ray Lopez (15th); David Moore (17th); Jeanette Taylor (20th); Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th); Walter Burnett (27th); Jason Ervin (28th); Carrie Austin (34th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th).

Voting against: Daniel LaSpata (1st); Pat Dowell (3rd); George Cardenas (12th); Michael Rodriquez (22nd); Ariel Reboyras (30th); Felix Cardona (31st); Gilbert Villegas (36th); Andre Vasquez (40th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd).

Reilly is not a member of the committee, but he exercised his right as president pro tempore to cast a vote. That may well have prompted Austin to go along with the Black Caucus after opposing the six-month delay during an earlier subject matter hearing.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the mayor’s floor leader, was asked whether there are 26 votes in the full City Council to approve the six-month delay.

“Looking at the roll calls, I think right now the votes are there to have a delay, yes,” Villegas said.

Villegas called the vote a “mistake” and said “every option is on the table” to stave off a delay that could conservatively cost the city $5 million.

Those options include deferring and publishing the ordinance at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, which any two aldermen can do for any reason, or a mayoral veto, if the ordinance ultimately passes.

“A lot of the negotiations that have been taking place with the governor’s office and the Black Caucus have addressed a lot of the issues they brought forward. As a Latino, I support” those demands, Villegas said.

“But, when you get down to Springfield, it’s a different animal down there. You’ve got to get everybody on board from different parts of the state to care about Chicago [and they] could care less about...this social equity component.”

Toi Hutchinson, a senior adviser to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on cannabis, added, “Delaying this implementation would do significant damage – and do far more harm than good in actually achieving equity.”

Lightfoot responded to the political embarrassment with a claim that the six-month delay would “have a multitude of unintended consequences.”

They include: “fueling illegal sales; placing the start of a new industry at the same time when our full public safety resources must be dedicated to combatting summer violence; and most importantly, stripping money from the social equity funds intended to benefit” Black and Brown entrepreneurs, the mayor said. 

“I have repeatedly asked the members of the Black Caucus to devise a strategy that addresses equity. Instead, we have primarily been met with a litany of complaints, but no tangible solutions. Crossing our arms and walking away is a tactic, not a strategy and is not only unacceptable but irresponsible,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a statement.

Ervin stood his ground. He’s furious 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 dispensaries would be allowed to immediately pivot to recreational marijuana sales and have the exclusive right to open a second location until late spring, when new businesses would finally get a chance to bid.

“It’s very critical that our communities have the parity and equity that is necessary for everybody to participate,” Ervin said Tuesday.

“This program started off, in our opinion, on the wrong foot and we were trying to correct that. We’re hopeful that the state will make some actions that make this equitable to all communities in our state—not just one select group of individuals.”

Ervin was unimpressed when told Villegas was holding out the possibility of using a parliamentary maneuver to defer a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” the chairman said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) called the committee vote a “huge step forward” and a message loud and clear to Springfield.

“This...product has harmed our community for years. It has incarcerated our community for years. And this was an opportunity to try to right the wrongs that have plagued our community,” Beale said.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s meeting, Lightfoot floated the idea of the city growing its own recreational marijuana to give minorities a chance to learn the business and share the wealth.

But that’s a long-term, $15 million project. And a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Agriculture has questioned whether state law allows issuing a grow license to a public entity.

“It’s a diversion. It’s a horrible idea. If the city is gonna get in the business of cannabis, the city might as well get in the business of having a brewery. The city of Chicago has no business even thinking about getting involved in the cannabis industry,” Beale said.

On Tuesday, the Lightfoot administration circulated a memo in hopes of convincing African-American aldermen to drop their threat to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago.

It included a promise to provide technical assistance and a “direct financial commitment” from the city to any social equity applicant that receives a state license to sell recreational marijuana in the next round of applications to be awarded on May 1.

Ervin called it “too little, too late.”

Prior to the vote, Reilly warned that the city could face a lawsuit from recreational marijuana dispensaries whose business model depends on opening their doors Jan. 1.

A top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous, warned of another “unintended consequence”: public safety.

“This is the perfect time of the year to implement this so we can combat illegal activity in a more aggressive way when it’s not as warm out and there ‘s not as much activity on the street,” the mayoral aide.

“We’d like to give the Police Department an opportunity to use these cold-weather months when there’s less activity outside to get a handle on the enforcement procedures and not deal with this illegal market. So, when the warmer weather hits and there’s more people and activity on the street, police already have a rhythm around enforcement.”

Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, claimed delaying recreational cannabis sales in Chicago would result in less revenue to fund the equity program.

“They should allow the program an opportunity to work and see how it works rather than just slamming the door,” said Althoff, a former Republican state senator who added that lawmakers in Springfield worked to craft legislation that creates “true social justice and equity to people who were disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”

Contributing: Tom Schuba

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