by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Despite concerns from the Black Caucus that African American businesses won’t get a fair shake when recreational marijuana sales begin in Illinois next year, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed rules for where those shops will be able to open.
The ordinance setting limits on where recreational marijuana businesses can operate in the city passed by a 40-10 vote.
The Black Caucus also had earlier announced plans to introduce an ordinance to delay recreational marijuana sales in Chicago until July 1, while they work on changes in Springfield, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they would follow through with that proposal later at Wednesday’s meeting.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who chairs the Black Caucus, said African American aldermen are upset that 11 existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be given a leg up on starting recreational marijuana sales without getting a special permit from the city. That would allow them to begin recreational pot sales months before anyone else in Chicago, and Erin noted there is “zero black ownership” among the existing medical marijuana operations in Chicago.
“These 11 businesses will be given an exclusive opportunity without anyone else coming in until late spring,” he said before Wednesday’s meeting. “The current plan gives an unfair advantage to those …there aren’t any opportunities for black ownership.”
Ervin also said there are too many loopholes in the so-called “social equity” provisions. The alderman said recreational pot shops whose employees are mostly minorities would be given social equity credit, but there is no requirement for minority ownership. The alderman said minority ownership is a must for real social equity.
However, Ervin said the city must still put in zoning rules for recreational marijuana to make sure the city determines where shops can go. He said the only limits spelled out in the state law is prohibiting recreational marijuana sales within 500 feet of schools. Ervin said the city needs to set rules to make sure the shops don’t open where the mayor, aldermen, and local residents don’t want them.
“All of those things get tossed out of the window if we do not pass any form of zoning,” Ervin said. “I think to not have any regulation on this matter will put us in much greater jeopardy than we are in today.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who was among those voting no on the zoning rules, said aldermen were missing out on an opportunity to use their political influence to correct mistakes in the state law.
He noted that the city’s 11 existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to get up to two recreational sales licenses apiece starting Jan. 1 without any special permit from the city, months before any other businesses could realistically get a license.
“How do we start a game already down 22-0? That is a travesty,” Beale said. “How do we let somebody get a 12-month head start before anyone else can get in the game?”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said the state legislature, not City Council, is the proper venue for addressing the aldermen’s concerns about assuring black businesses a fair shot at ownership of recreational pot businesses.
The mayor said she would work with aldermen to seek changes in Springfield to address their concerns about giving minorities a fair shot at owning recreational marijuana businesses.
Lightfoot said the city has limited abilities under the state’s recreational marijuana law regarding sales, primarily through setting zoning rules.
“That’s not going to accomplish what they want to get accomplished,” she said Tuesday, the day before the City Council vote.
The Black Caucus said they are willing to work with the mayor and the state legislature to make any necessary changes to state law regarding recreational pot licenses.
“In the end, we want to see people that look like us in this business profit from it,” Ervin said.
Before Wednesday’s vote, the mayor also had amended the recreational pot zoning rules to address concerns about her plan to limit sales in the downtown area. Several aldermen had expressed concerns that her original plan would have hurt the amount of revenue the city would see from marijuana taxes.
The original plan called for banning pot sales in the River North area north of the Chicago River in an area bounded from Lake Michigan on the east to LaSalle Street on the west and Oak Street on the north; and south of the Chicago River in the Loop area from Lake Michigan on the east to the Chicago River on the west, and south to Ida B. Wells Drive.
The revised boundaries north of the river would extend from Lake Michigan to State Street, instead of LaSalle, and the northern boundary would be moved north from Oak to Division. The southern boundary of the exclusion zone would be moved from Wells Drive to Van Buren Street.
Lightfoot’s plan splits the rest of the city into seven zones, with a maximum number of stores selling recreational marijuana in each.
The compromise ordinance also would require anyone seeking to operate a marijuana business in areas of the city typically reserved for storefronts to obtain a city permit and a zoning change, which would require City Council approval and give aldermen more oversight of recreational pot shops.