CHICAGO (CBS) — Angry words sharply divided the City Council Black Caucus as its members split this week over a proposal to delay sales of recreational marijuana.
A number of members of the caucus backed away from the proposed delay – which was proposed in the name of better minority representation. The delay was defeated by a vote of 29-19 at a full City Council meeting on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the day after, CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole went to see if the Black Caucus has been divided by the battle.
On Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was embraced at a holiday event by Ald. Carrie Austin (34th). But Austin did not support the mayor when it came to moving forward with legal marijuana sales in the city Jan 1.
The Black Caucus was 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.
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 at the Wednesday meting. “Once again we get thrown into jails and they get thrown into banks.”
The proposal to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago until July was approved Tuesday by the Committee on Contracting Equity and Oversight by a vote of 10-9.
But end the end, the proposal was defeated in the full City Council – and six caucus members broke ranks and sided with the mayor.
Mayor 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.
Caucus Chairman Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) had led the fight for the delay.
“This is America,” Ervin said Thursday night. “This is democracy at work.”
Ervin said the battle should not be interpreted as a sign the mayor and the caucus won’t work together in the future.
“We should not necessarily all the time walk into a situation knowing the outcome,” Ervin said.
But it seems there are some wounds within the caucus itself. The Wednesday vote led Ald. David Moore (17th) to say he’s dropping out.
“At the end of the day, if we can’t stand for equity for black people, we don’t need a black caucus,” Moore said.
Apparently, members of the caucus keep in touch by group text – which has been lighting up since the Wednesday debate.
Conversations noted the differences between the aldermen, but also their individual responsibilities – said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who voted with the mayor.
“We all have a lot of work to do together, and we need each other,” Burnett said.
But after such a difficult day, many wonder.
When asked what he thought the conflict said about the strength of the caucus, Ervin said: “We are not going to let something like this tear us apart. We will still work as a unit for the benefit of our community.”
Regardless of the differences Wednesday, Black Caucus members say working for equity is what unites them. But this is politics, which means the memories of a defeat and a division can sometimes linger.