Social equity is a big topic when it comes to legal pot in Illinois.
Gov. JB Pritzker touts the newly approved legislation as the “most equity-centric approach” in the country, meaning it’s supposed to help the same black and brown communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the criminalization of marijuana in the past.
WBEZ’s Melba Lara talked with Kiana Hughes, education director of Chicago NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, about how she views the equity component of Illinois’ proposed law.
On whether she's happy with the legislation
Kiana Hughes: I'm very proud of what's in it. I do believe Illinois has the most comprehensive equity plan in the legislation that I've seen from any of the other states and cities that have social equity programs. However, I do think there's quite a few missed opportunities that we could've capitalized on that would've made it even better.
On what she thinks is missing
Hughes: The concept of true equity and equality in terms of the opportunities being made available to social equity applicants [is missing] ... One of the things this bill does is that it places the current people who are players in the industry — the wealthy white men who are already making all the money in the industry on the medical side — it places them at a far greater advantage and gives them a far greater head start on capturing this adult-use market come Jan. 1.
So the way that this legislation was written, they will have access to recreational licenses and they'll be able to sell adult-use cannabis on Jan. 1, whereas the applications for licenses for the rest of us are due on Jan. 1. So they will already have a huge advantage, a huge share of the market, and they'll also be able to get another license to open another location as well.
On the expungement provisions for prior convictions
Hughes: I think it's a good thing that if you have a cannabis possession offense on your record for up to 30 grams, those will be automatically expunged. If you have between 30 grams and 500 grams — and this is kind of where the legislation falls short for me — then you have to go and petition the courts to have that expunged from your record. So now what that means is the people who have already been victimized by the system, now they have to hopefully have the wherewithal, and the means, and the resources to pursue expungement on their own.
But then now, that's also being left up to the judge. And so we know the judicial system hasn't always been fair to black and brown people, and this puts them in a position of potentially being re-victimized by the same system that got them in the position in the first place.
On how the criminalization of marijuana has affected Kiana Hughes personally
Hughes: I am the product of a family who has suffered the detestation of the "war on drugs." My own father, his addiction was largely criminalized. He spent a good majority of my formative years in and out of jail. So yeah, this is something that affects me personally. It is the reason that I do what I do because I do believe that cannabis has been vilified. Because of the stigma and everything associated with that — and how the war on drugs was implemented and how it affected our community — it's just something that I can't just sit by and watch happen if there's something I can do about it.