CITY HALL — Despite a push by the Black Caucus, recreational weed will be legally sold in Chicago come Jan. 1.
In a dramatic City Council meeting, the ordinance that would’ve delayed recreational weed sales until July 1 was narrowly defeated by a 29-19 vote.
Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Greg 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), Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (33th), Carrie Austin (34th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and James Cappleman (46th) voted to delay cannabis sales.
When the votes were counted, six Black Caucus members voted against the proposed ordinance they had co-sponsored: Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd), Michelle Harris (8th), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Emma Mitts (37th) and Matt Martin (47th). They were joined by 23 other aldermen. Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Maria Hadden (49th) were absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
The measure to delay weed sales had been pushed by Aldermanic Black Caucus chairman Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and co-sponsored by the entire Black Caucus. Black aldermen have said they wanted to delay sales until July 1 to allow for minority-owned firms to share in the wealth that will be created in the industry.
With state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries getting the first wave of recreational licenses under the state’s process, all 11 of the dispensaries that can sell recreational weed on Jan. 1 are owned by white men. More licenses will be issued in May and it’s anticipated many will be given to so-called “social-equity” applicants.
Prior to the vote, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader, moved to “defer and publish” the ordinance along with Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd). That move would’ve delayed the vote for at least two days.
Beale immediately moved to adjourn the meeting, which would speed up the process to hold a new City Council meeting. His motion to adjourn fell short 32-16, prompting Villegas to withdraw his motion to delay a vote.
The debate before the vote was heated. Moore said if the measure was “deferred and published” he would use the same tactic to block every other ordinance before the City Council this year.
Burnett, who has said he’ll only support dispensaries aiming to open in his ward if they are partnering with a black operator, said the Black Caucus has gained some wins by bringing their proposal to a vote, a move that once was considered a longshot. Voting against the proposal Wednesday, he said now was the time to compromise.
Burnett told Block Club after the meeting that the state and Mayor’s office have agreed to a tentative deal to allow two minority-owned medical dispensaries to open in Chicago, in addition to the 11 white-owned medical dispensaries that will sell recreational weed come Jan. 1.
“Deliberation with the Governor’s office and the Mayor’s office have an opportunity [to add] two dispensaries to the 11 — African-American dispensaries — and some other things put in place that we’re still working the details on,” he said.
The mayor’s office did not immediately answer questions about the status of negotiations with the state.
According Gov. JB Pritzker’s office, there are two remaining Chicago medical dispensary licenses that can be awarded under state law.
“The state is working to finalize social equity standards for the remaining medical licenses and has to work through the rule-making process to get that done. When the rules are approved, applications for the remaining medical licenses will be opened for applicants and we will follow the application process to award those licenses,” a Pritzker spokesperson said.
Burnett said Beale’s bid to adjourn the meeting wasn’t a move the entire caucus had signed off on.
“It wasn’t part of a plan we had, trying to work together,” he said.
“They just wanted to do their own separate things and I think some folks just wanted to fight, disregarding trying to get stuff. When they offer you two dispensaries, I think that’s a win,” he said.
Burnett declined to divulge what he and Lightfoot were talking about at the side of the dais during the meeting, but he said he was confident she would have vetoed the ordinance if it were to pass.
“I know she was going to do whatever she can do to not let that pass. She was very strong on that. The mayor was so concerned about this, she was calling aldermen personally about it,” he said.
Burnett said he was confident the plan for two more medical dispensaries to open will materialize.
“They still got to vote on them in Springfield, but they offered us two dispensaries,” he said.
“(The state) did it with the mayor’s office, and the mayor’s office gave it to us — told us they did it — and we confirmed it with them,” he said.
Mayor Lightfoot told reporters that it was time to begin sales.
“We’re moving forward, we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward,” she said.
She said the Black Caucus didn’t put forth a proposal for what to do in the meantime if sales were delayed.
“I never heard anybody articulate a single reason why delay helped a single person in the black and brown community, I didn’t hear it. I stood listening, but I didn’t hear it,” she said. “Delay without any kind of strategy behind it is just a useless exercise.”
During the debate, Ervin dismissed the notion that the fees set to be raised from the initial licensed dispensaries could help fund upfront costs of the “social-equity” applicants.
“The 11 dispensaries in the city only paid $130,000 dollars apiece, a total of $1.4 million for the privilege to sell recreational marijuana,” he said. “They will pay back their entry fee in a matter of hours, and we have nothing! Where is the equity in that?”
Before Ervin wrapped up his remarks, Ald. Reilly interrupted him to bring the ordinance up for a roll call vote. Ervin objected, protesting that he had the floor. Ervin was prepared to “defer and publish” his own ordinance in an effort to round up votes — including those the Black Caucus he chairs — before a vote was cast.
Lightfoot, who as mayor chairs City Council meetings, ruled that she gave the floor to Reilly and a roll-call vote was in order. That set off a chaotic scene as Ervin and Lightfoot argued over legislative rules. A series of procedural votes eventually brought the ordinance up for a vote.
Ald. Curtis, who voted to delay sales, said he was disheartened by the contentious nature of the meeting.
“People got very disrespectful with each other and it got way out of hand,” he said.
But he said the split vote does not spell trouble for the Black Caucus’ ability to work together with the mayor.
“She’s black, we’re black and I honestly believe that if we can trust any other mayor, whether it was Daley or Rahm, we should be able to trust her, too,” Curtis said.
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