Black Caucus chairman threatens to resurrect six-month delay for recreational marijuana sales

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) says governor’s office is backtracking on promise to earmark two medical marijuana dispensary licenses for black or Hispanic operators.

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Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot shortly before the Council voted 29 to 19 to shoot down his plan to push back Chicago sales of recreational marijuana for six months.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, threatened Thursday to try again to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus threatened Thursday to try again to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago for six months after accusing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office of backing off from a commitment made to African American aldermen demanding a piece of the pie.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said “seven or eight” black and Hispanic aldermen voted against a six-month delay based on the promise they were told the governor’s office made to earmark two medical marijuana dispensary licenses — in Hyde Park and Chinatown — for social equity applicants.

That would have given black and Hispanic people shut out in round one of the recreational marijuana sweepstakes a chance to get in on the action; medical dispensaries could be allowed to pivot to recreation marijuana sales and, potentially, open a second location.

Hours after a divided City Council voted to let recreational marijuana sales begin as scheduled Jan. 1, the governor’s office disavowed any such guarantees about the two new licenses.

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said there would be a “regulated process to determine the ultimate owners” from a pool that includes “social equity applicants.”

On Thursday, Ervin accused the governor’s office of backing away from a commitment made to the Black Caucus during marathon negotiations brokered by aides to Mayor Lori Lightfoot that continued up until and during the tension-filled City Council meeting Wednesday.

“The governor’s office … made commitments for two medicinal social equity licenses — one in the Hyde Park area, one in the Chinatown area — relayed to us by the mayor and her staff. They [said] they had to adjust some rules or do something to make that happen,” Ervin said.

“If they’re now saying that they will not do that, then they’re backtracking on what was previously stated. ... That’s a problem. If they’re saying they won’t do it, that’s a problem. …I’m disappointed in everything that transpired and this would just add insult to injury.”

Ervin said he now plans to “take the temperature” of the Black Caucus about renewing efforts to delay sales.

“I would hope that people would reconsider their decision based on the fact that what was promised to them was not delivered,” Ervin said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) supported the six-month delay in committee, then opposed it on the City Council floor based on the promise of two social equity licenses.

In fact, he crowed on the Council floor about having “brought something home for our community.”

On Thursday, Burnett said he was neither surprised nor concerned the governor’s office was backing away from the apparent promise.

“What can they say? They can’t say legally that it’s gonna be a certain ethnic group. You can’t do that. … We knew that coming in that they couldn’t say that,” Burnett said.

“But we think everything is gonna be alright. … I’ve got confidence that everything is gonna be fine.”

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), one of the mayor’s closest City Council allies, agreed. “The discussions are ongoing, and we still feel confident and trust [that] the governor’s office has the right approach,” Scott said.

Emily Bittner, the governor’s communications director, said, “The governor and members of the General Assembly worked hard to ensure that the social equity provisions of the adult-use cannabis effort would also apply to the existing medical industry, including the five medical licenses that have yet to be awarded.

”The ultimate awardees of the medical licenses will be determined through a regulated process, but social equity applicants will receive the same additional points in the medical application scoring that they receive in the adult-use process.”

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