Illinois Officials Clash Over Marijuana Legalization, Social Justice
As Illinois gets closer to recreational marijuana sales, the issue of social justice has been raised again, with African American leaders in Chicago voicing concerns that the law will allow white cannabis dispensary owners a jump start over people of color.
A push by the city’s Black Caucus Chairman to move back the start date for legal sales until July failed in early December. Recreational marijuana sales are still expected to start Jan. 1, however.
During a recent city council meeting, opponents to the plan voiced their opposition, according to numerous media reports.
Social Justice Has Become A Key Reason To Support Legalization
Debate over minority participation in the legal cannabis industry is partly what derailed recent efforts for legalization in New York and New Jersey. In both cases, lawmakers decided to table the issue until a compromise could be struck.
Social justice also has been a key component in winning support for legalization at the national level. Most politicians, including Democrats running for president, have made expunging past criminal records related to marijuana and ensuring minority participation in the cannabis industry key reasons for their legalization support.
In Illinois, lawmakers passed legalization in 2019. Some, however, believe the issue of minority participation in the cannabis industry was not adequately addressed. For example, opponents pointed out that state law favors dispensaries that employ people who live in areas hit hardest by the War on Drugs. Opponents said that should only be awarded to those owned by minorities.
“I’m telling them right now, don’t even talk to me unless you have African American partners," said Alderman Walter Burnett Jr., according to the Chicago Tribune. “Don’t waste your time coming to see me. Because I don’t even want to talk to them. Because I think you’re just being racist in my face when you talk to me about this stuff, and you don’t allow African Americans to be your partner. It’s ridiculous, man.”
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The Governor Defends The State System, While Key Advisors Signal Changes Are Coming
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has defended the law, saying that state lawmakers designed legalization to create a diverse legal cannabis industry and that the state wants “black and brown people, we want people who’ve been left out and left behind, to have a real opportunity to not only benefit from this new industry but to create new millionaires in the black community, in the Latino community, all across this state.”
The disagreement, much as it was in New York and New Jersey, is how to get there. Pritzker said he is getting the industry up and running and that his administration is working to ensure that the predominantly white-owned medical marijuana dispensaries don’t control the market.
However, it may take more time for social equity provisions in the law to go into effect, state officials told the Chicago Sun-Times. Toi Hutchinson, one of the key people behind the creation of the cannabis legalization law, said that “Jan. 1 is just the beginning” of the new law’s rollout.
For example, social equity candidates can now apply for cannabis licenses, including 75 new recreational dispensary permits. But they will not be awarded until 2020.