by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Recreational marijuana sales in Chicago will begin Jan. 1, after the City Council voted down a bid by the Black Caucus to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago by six months, following a heated debate at City Hall.
The 29-19 vote against the proposed ordinance means weed smokers in Chicago won’t have to wait any longer than the rest of the state to light up legally come the new year.
Council votes 29-19 against the ordinance to delay recreational marijuana sales. Legal weed will begin in Chicago on Jan. 1
— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) December 18, 2019
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her staff had been urging aldermen to vote against the delay even as the meeting was going on, arguing it would do more harm than good, and noting Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already taken steps to increase minority participation in the pot industry, and has pledged to do more.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who had led the fight for the delay, said he was disappointed by the vote, but said it wouldn’t stop the Black Caucus from working with the mayor on any other issues down the road.
“We’re going to have differences of opinion, and that’s okay. This is democracy, and we have that,” he said.
For her part, the mayor said she supports the Black Caucus’ goals of increasing minority participation in the marijuana industry, but she said their strategy of delaying the sale of recreational marijuana without a concrete plan for how to get more African American and Latino owners involved during those six months was the wrong approach.
“As my mother always says, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. The right way is to come up with a strategic plan where we can change the trajectory of black and brown people in this city, and particularly when it comes to participation in this market,” she said. “A tactic is just to delay; delay without any kind of strategy behind it is a useless exercise.”
The Black Caucus is upset that the 11 existing medical marijuana companies in Chicago that will be allowed to immediately begin recreational sales on Jan. 1 are owned almost exclusively by white men.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) called the lack of African American involvement in the legal cannabis industry a “travesty” for the black community.
“We complain day in and day out about the lack of resources in the African American community. We’ve got the worst schools, we’ve got the most crime, and we get the less resources out of everybody in this city, and we have an opportunity today to stand together to make a difference on getting resources to come to our community,” he said.
The Black Caucus also has argued that state law does not include sufficient standards to assure African Americans and Hispanics benefit from the recreational marijuana industry, even though minorities were most hurt by the decades-long war on drugs.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said minorities are being treated like second-class citizens in the legalized marijuana industry.
“The only people who benefit from this deal are the white people,” she said. “Once again we get thrown into jails and they get thrown into banks.”
Before the vote against the ordinance to delay recreational marijuana sales, it appeared the mayor’s allies were going to delay the issue to give the administration more time to convince aldermen to vote against the proposal.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) moved to delay the vote until the next City Council meeting.
Ervin immediately called for a vote to adjourn — likely planning to later call for a special meeting before the new year — but after aldermen voted 32-16 to continue the meeting. At that point, apparently sensing the mayor’s allies had the numbers to defeat Ervin’s ordinance, Villegas withdrew his motion to delay the vote.
“The only reason he withdrew that motion is because he feels he has the votes to kill it,” Beale said as debate on the ordinance began.
It took several more procedural votes about the council’s rules of procedure before aldermen finally cast their votes on Ervin’s proposed delay.
The aldermen who voted for the delay included: Daniel La Spata (1st), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Gregory Mitchell (7th), Anthony Beale (9th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), David Moore (17th), Derrick Curtis (18th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Howard Brookins (21st), Michael Scott Jr. (24th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Jason Ervin (28th), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Carrie Austin (34th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), and James Cappleman (46th).
Six members of the Black Caucus — Pat Dowell (3rd), Michelle Harris (8th), Walter Burnett (27th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Emma Mitts (37th), and Matthew Martin (47th) — voted against the delay. Another member of the caucus, Maria Hadden (49th), was absent. Had all seven of those aldermen voted with the rest of the caucus, the council would have approved the ordinance, and forced Lightfoot to veto the measure in order to avoid the delay.
Moore was so incensed by the fact the Black Caucus did not stand united in favor of the ordinance, he said he is resigning from the Black Caucus.
“I’m upset about many of the members of my Black Caucus, because at the end of the day, if we can’t stand for equity for black people, we don’t need a Black Caucus, and as of today David Moore is not in the Black Caucus,” he said. “They’re going to have to show me why I should be in the Black Caucus, because if they can’t stand up for equity for minorities, then what are we fighting for?”
Beale said it was important for the Black Caucus to fight for their constituents by trying to delay the start of recreational cannabis sales until they could get guarantees minority businesses would benefit from the legal weed industry.
“Cannabis has locked up hundreds of thousands of African Americans in this city, and we can’t get a piece of it. We need a piece of this, and if we can’t get it, nobody should,” he said.
However, the mayor’s allies repeatedly have said that any conversation about changing the rules for improving social equity in the legal marijuana industry needs to happen at the state level, not in the City Council.
“It should have been something that happened a year ago to the state,” Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said.
Villegas, the mayor’s floor leader, said the debate showed aldermen need to get more involved in legislative negotiations in Springfield.
“Over 80 percent of both the black and Latino caucus in Springfield approved this,” he said. “This is the best deal that the black and Latino caucus in Springfield could put forward.”
During the debate, Moore raised many eyebrows in City Hall when he accused the governor of calling aldermen and threatening to withhold funding for capital projects in their wards if they voted for the delay.
“I wish he would,” Moore said.
Moore later clarified that he never received a call from the governor himself, and had only heard from others that the governor’s office had been pressuring aldermen to vote against the delay by threatening capital funds.
“There were some colleagues who were saying they were getting calls from the governor’s office, saying you’ve got projects in your ward that rely on some capital funding, so you’d better rethink your vote, and that angered me,” Moore said.
Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner vehemently denied that allegation in a post on Twitter.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she wrote.
Nothing could be further from the truth. https://t.co/jt3XjCuzW3
— Emily Bittner (@emily_bittner) December 18, 2019
The mayor also denied that Pritzker ever threatened to take away capital funding from any alderman’s ward, saying “he wouldn’t do that, that’s not who he is,” and she scolded Moore from making such a claim without proof.
“I don’t think it’s wise to try to poke our governor in the eye. Governor Pritzker is an important ally of the city of Chicago. What we ought to be doing is trying to support the governor in his work,” she said. “Making things personal, and trying to vilify somebody because they don’t share 100 percent your beliefs is always a mistake, and I think that’s unfortunate on the part of Alderman Moore.”
Lightfoot has said she agrees that more must be done to increase minority participation in the marijuana industry, but she argued delaying recreational marijuana sales would not accomplish that goal, and she scolded the Black Caucus for failing to offer concrete proposals for how to do so.
“We all support the notion that we must have equity. It’s what I ran on, it’s what I talk about at virtually every time that I make a public statement,” she said.
Even before the meeting, the mayor had made it clear she would veto Ervin’s ordinance had it passed, saying in a statement on Tuesday “I have no intention of Chicago being left behind.”
Burnett said, even without a delay in recreational sales, black aldermen still hold leverage over what pot businesses can operate in their wards through their authority over zoning. He said he’s already been successful in getting white-owned marijuana businesses seeking to open in his ward to bring in black partners.
“I’ve had two people, two of those municipal licenses, to come to me and say we have an African American partner now,” he said.