The Chicago City Council codified new recreational cannabis guidelines Wednesday, over the objections of African-American aldermen who say their communities are getting short-shrift in what promises to be a lucrative new legal industry.
The Council’s 20-member black caucus held a morning news conference Wednesday, blasting state rules, which promise the first recreational licenses to existing medical facilities.
“All of the licenses that will be rolled out for over a year will be all white men in the city of Chicago,” alderman Anthony Beale complained. “You’re cutting us out, and we’re just saying, cut us in.”
Seventeenth ward alderman David Moore noted the social equity component of the state’s new marijuana law was supposed to benefit those hardest hit by pot prosecutions in the past.
“Day after day I saw friends of mine get locked up for little pieces of marijuana,” Moore told his colleagues. “And the very thing they got locked up for, they’re about to make it legal, and nobody is out the gate on it.”
Black caucus members suggested they would attempt to hold up licensing until July. But when the vote finally came, it wasn’t even close, with just ten members of the 50 member City Council voting 'no.'
“We regulate location and number,” zoning chair Tom Tunney said after the vote. “The social equity piece is a separate discussion.”
The new rules won’t please many in the cannabis industry, providing a much more restrictive roadmap to where new dispensaries will be allowed. Aldermen did shrink the so-called “exclusion zone,” moving its boundary three blocks closer to Michigan Avenue, although the Magnificent Mile will still be a pot-free area.
“If I had it my way, this would be a far more permissive ordinance,” downtown alderman Brendan Reilly said. “We would have much bigger revenue opportunity downtown next year.”
Still, Reilly hailed the spirit of compromise which brought the ordinance to fruition. And after the vote, Mayor Lightfoot said she sympathized with the sentiments expressed during the debate.
“I will be your partner in addressing equity issues where they can be addressed in Springfield,” she promised.
In related news, the state of Illinois approved more recreational cannabis licenses Wednesday, including the first license in Chicago, the existing MedMar medical outlet at 3812 N. Clark. The owners of that facility, Cresco Labs, have indicated an intention to move it south on Clark Street to the former John Barleycorn location; though the new zoning rules passed Wednesday could complicate those efforts.