Chicago City Council Rejects Black Caucus Push To Delay Legal Pot Sales

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, marijuana debate
Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, argues in favor of delaying legal marijuana sales during the Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18. Claudia Morell / WBEZ
Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, marijuana debate
Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, argues in favor of delaying legal marijuana sales during the Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18. Claudia Morell / WBEZ

Chicago City Council Rejects Black Caucus Push To Delay Legal Pot Sales

Updated 2:52 p.m.

Chicago aldermen on Wednesday rejected an attempt by the City Council’s Black Caucus to delay legal weed sales in the city for six months. The item sparked a dizzying day of parliamentary bickering and procedure, but ultimately failed on a roll call vote of 29 to 19.

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, chairman of the city council’s Black Caucus, had introduced the proposal.

Black aldermen want more minorities in the burgeoning legal pot industry. Currently, all the companies authorized to start selling recreational pot on Jan. 1 are owned by white people.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot rejected the characterization that Wednesday’s meeting mirrored the fights of the Council Wars of the 1980s, after Harold Washington was elected as the city’s first black mayor. “That diminishes the magnitude of Council Wars,” the mayor said. “Council Wars was based upon a racist notion that a black mayor shouldn’t be allowed to fully function in government.”

Ironically, one of the main players in the Council Wars fight against Mayor Harold Washington, Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, the council parliamentarian, was silent throughout Wednesday’s proceedings.

The circus started with a motion by the mayor’s floor leader Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th Ward, who joined downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, to defer and publish the ordinance. When two aldermen use the defer and publish rule, it blocks a vote on an ordinance for at least 48 hours or until the next full City Council meeting.

That motion prompted Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, to call for the meeting to end. That motion resulted in a roll call vote. It failed 32 to 16.

In a surprise turn of events, Villegas withdrew his motion to defer and publish, promoting a heated floor debate about who would benefit from the lucrative recreational marijuana industry.

“What you are witnessing here today is a travesty in our community,” Ald. Beale said, opening what would become an intense floor debate. “We complain day in and day out about the lack of resources in the African American community. We got the worst schools, we got the most crime, and we get less resources out of everybody in the community, and we have an opportunity today to stand together to make a difference on getting resources to come to our community. ”

At one point, discussion got so in the weeds, Ald. Ervin and Mayor Lighfoot got into a heated back and forth on whether the City Council’s rules of order supercede Roberts’ Rules of Order, the procedural rule book that government bodies use.

The final twist was Ervin’s last-minute effort to defer and publish his own ordinance, likely out of fear that he didn’t have the necessary votes to avoid an inevitable mayoral veto. He failed.

Ervin pleaded with his colleagues to support the delay to legal weed sales. “This conversation started with a simple question: Why is it that communities of color are being left out of the recreational cannabis business? This ordinance before us seeks to try to correct the economic wrong that has been done by working with city, working with the state and working with the cannabis owners.”

“If this was a bond deal with no blacks, no browns, no women, it wouldn’t have made it out of committee,” Ervin said, referring to the city’s rules about reserving a portion of city contracts for minority and women owned businesses.

Ald. David Moore, 17th Ward, a staunch supporter of delaying weed sales, said if he and the rest of the Black Caucus didn’t use this opportunity to advocate for their residents, he would leave the caucus. After the ordinance failed, Moore followed up on that retort, telling reporters he wants nothing to do with the caucus.

“Because at the end of the day, if we can’t stand for equity for black people, we don’t need a black caucus,” Moore said, before talking about himself in the third person. “And as of today, David Moore is not in the Black Caucus.”

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @claudiamorell.