Chicago Council Committee Votes to Delay Pot Sales | WBEZ
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Chicago City Council Committee Narrowly Votes to Delay Recreational Pot Sales

Chicago aldermen are one step closer to delaying legal weed sales within city limits until the summer of 2020.

In a narrow vote of 10 to 9 Tuesday, the City Council Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity advanced an ordinance championed by Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, the Chairman of the City Council Black Caucus. The delay would make Illinois’ largest city out of step with the rest of the state when recreational marijuana sales become legal January 1.

Ervin introduced the ordinance after it became clear to him the state law and the city’s subsequent zoning regulations wouldn’t sufficiently support minority ownership in the burgeoning industry.

“It is very critical that our communities have the parity and equity that is necessary for everybody to participate,” Ervin said Tuesday. “This program, in our opinion, started on the wrong foot and we were trying to correct that.”

The ordinance is expected to go before the full City Council Wednesday, the last meeting of the year. But that doesn’t guarantee there will be a vote.

Two aldermen could use parliamentary procedure to block a floor vote on the ordinance. The only way Ervin could work around that rule is if he can get a majority of the council to schedule a subsequent meeting before the new year.

Tuesday’s vote in support of Ervin’s ordinance was a protest against state lawmakers who’ve been marketing Illinois’ law as one of the most equitable legalization laws in the country, as well as against Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose administration has tried to appease the Black Caucus.

On Tuesday night, Lightfoot issued a statement touting her administration's work with the Black Caucus and cautioning against delaying legal recreational marijuana until summer.

"Delaying sales will have a multitude of unintended consequences, including fueling illegal sales, placing the start of a new industry at the same time when our full public safety resources must be dedicated to combatting summer violence, and most importantly, stripping money from the social equity funds intended to benefit Black and Brown entrepreneurs," Lightfoot said in the statement.

"I have repeatedly asked the members of the Black Caucus to devise a strategy that addresses equity. Instead, we have primarily been met with a litany of complaints, but no tangible solutions. Crossing our arms and walking away is a tactic, not a strategy and is not only unacceptable but irresponsible," the statement said. "We have a tremendous opportunity to come together to do the work necessary to fulfill our vision of truly equitable legalization. Cannabis will be legalized across the State of Illinois starting on Jan. 1, and I have no intention of Chicago being left behind. It is unfortunate that the Black Caucus has chosen to remain on the sidelines."

On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested the city could use programs it already has at its disposal to provide seed money to minority applicants who want to open up dispensaries or cultivation centers. She said tax increment financing, or TIF funds, as well as existing small business grant programs could provide that seed money.

Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, was the only member of the Black Caucus on the committee to vote against Ervin.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, employed a rarely used parliamentary rule that allowed him a vote even though he is not a member of the committee. During the debate ahead of the roll call vote, Reilly expressed concern that the city could be making itself vulnerable to litigation by passing the ordinance.

Mayor Lightfoot’s 2020 budget projects marijuana revenues will bring in $10 million. A six month delay brings that down to $5 million, although some aldermen say the administration low-balled its projections, so City Hall could be losing out on more potential revenue.

“I think it is a mistake,” said the mayor’s floor leader, Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th Ward. “Delaying it is going to have unintended consequences.”

Villegas said shorting potential revenue impacts programs built into the state legislation that would have helped fund minority participation. When asked about a possible vote Wednesday, Villegas said "every option on the table."

“There is more than one way to skin a cat,” Ervin said to reporters in response to the opponents who said there were other ways to go about ensuring equity in the growing legal weed industry.

In a statement, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s office defended the equity provisions built into state law.

“No other state in the nation has taken this robust and unique approach to equity, and we will continue to work to ensure that all communities benefit from this legalization,” said Toi Hutchinson, the governor’s cannabis czar. “Delaying this implementation would do significant damage – and do far more harm than good in actually achieving equity.”

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