CHICAGO — Wednesday is the day.
Weed dispensaries around Chicago, some as early as 6 a.m., will open their doors to legal recreational sales in Illinois.
If you are braving the cold and crowds at Dispensary 33 in Uptown/Andersonville you may see an unexpected neighbor — your local politician.
Chicago Alds. Andre Vasquez (40th) and Matt Martin (47th) will join the lead sponsors of the Illinois state bill that legalized recreational pot sales, State Sen. Heather Steans (7th) and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (14th), at the dispensary to talk with those waiting in line and hold a press conference to mark the occasion.
RELATED: Here Are The Chicago Dispensaries
Chicago’s Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood and Economic Development, Samir Mayekar, will represent the Mayor’s Office at the event, scheduled to begin at 9:30 am.
Vasquez told Block Club he hopes to de-stigmatize weed use. Vasquez is a cannabis consumer, a drug he said has been used in the past to marginalize black and brown communities.
“I think if you look at cannabis historically, right, that was the intent for when it was first made illegal. It was called marijuana because it’s being tied to Mexican folks and undocumented folks, and that was the connection to the stigma,” he said. “That’s something that was intentional, deliberate, and over time if becomes part of the social consciousness. So it takes time to actually turn that kind of perception around.”
Unlike former President Bill Clinton, Vasquez does not equivocate when describing his past use. He said how and when he consumes weed has changed from when he was younger. Years before entering politics, Vasquez made his name in the city as a battle rapper.
“Yeah, I’ve used cannabis in the past. You know, growing up, I was a hip-hop kid in the ’90s,” he said. Vasquez began smoking while at parties in high school. He said as he grew older, partying lost its appeal, but cannabis has helped him unwind.
“Cannabis did kind of help with some social anxieties I had. After a while it just became a thing …where if I’m just going to chill or have a glass of wine or something, then it’s like, alright let’s partake,” he said.
Vasquez said he’ll leave it to other politicians to come forward as consumers, but he knows he’s not alone.
“I’m sure there are people that do. It’s up to folks to make their own decision whether they want to be public about it or not,” he said. “…There is a tabooness about it that needs to be removed when we’re talking about something that’s legal.”
Vasquez defeated longtime Ald. Patrick O’Connor earlier this year to win his seat at City Council. He is currently campaigning for 40th Ward committeeman in 2020 and his 2023 aldermanic re-election race is another year closer. He said he has some hesitation of publicly speaking about consuming weed, but took comfort that he won’t be the only local elected official at Dispensary 33 Wednesday, including Rep. Cassidy, who is white.
“As a person of color and the way I’ve been viewed by society growing up in my experience, absolutely, I’ve had anxiety about trying to be public but I knew that it’s the important thing to do,” he said. “I also knew that I had to talk to somebody like Kelly Cassidy, who said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be there.’ It helped me to be able to say yes.”
Vasquez said he’ll continue to talk about his cannabis use with the 40th Ward residents he represents.
“I think some of it is just making sure that I’m able to talk to neighbors, that people understand who I am and have been and continue to be. The fact that you know, like someone has a drink, I smoke or have an edible…that that wouldn’t change people’s perception of how someone conducts themselves,” he said.
Vasquez said the work isn’t done to make sure everyone benefits from the new industry. All nine Chicago dispensaries that will begin sales Wednesday are owned by white men. Vasquez voted against a measure by the Aldermanic Black Caucus to delay sales until June 1 because of the lack of equity in ownership in the industry. He said at the time that he understood the Black Caucus’ frustration, but didn’t think a delay would achieve their goals.
“As we move forward with equity programs, we’re doing stuff where folks are making good livable wages, can become owners of businesses, that where they are workers of the larger companies they are unionized, they are given the benefits they need, that folks aren’t being taken advantage of,” he said.
“We got to make sure that we stay focused on pushing it and don’t think that just because cannabis is legal it is time to celebrate without doing the work,” he said.
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