HP Township may gain from pot ‘equity’ rule

Ald. Hairston (5th, left) speaks with Ald. Taylor (20th) before the vote to delay sales of legalized marijuana in Chicago until July. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

Members of the City Council Black Caucus did not succeed in delaying the sale of marijuana in the city to July, but action by the Pritzker administration could have an impact the cannabis industry in Hyde Park.

Following the Council’s contentious Dec. 18 meeting, the governor’s team announced it was including “social equity” components into the application for a medical marijuana dispensary licenses. Five more licenses are available statewide, including one for Hyde Park Township.

Because medical dispensaries are able to apply to begin selling recreational pot before the state begins to give out recreational dispensary licenses in May, there is a good chance that a cannabis entrepreneur who meets the social equity qualifications will establish a presence on the South Side before other dispensary-owners.

Many observers of the Council meeting noted a resemblance to the fraught 1980s “Council Wars” era, when white aldermen attempted to block Mayor Harold Washington’s every move, though Mayor Lori Lightfoot refuted a comparison in her post-meeting press conference.

Ald. Sophia King (4th) summed it up during debate: “Black and brown people were locked up in this industry, and now we’re being locked out.” She voted for the delay alongside Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th); it failed 19-29.

“We are going to vote to delay it, because there are no Black people involved,” Hairston said before the meeting, standing at Taylor’s desk. “There are no minorities, no people of color. Eleven white companies, and they will have a six-month head start over everybody else. And that is just plain wrong.”

“The only time there is social equity for black people is when it is mandated, and that’s a sad statement,” Hairston said.

Taylor blamed the state government for instigating the vote, saying they did not reach out to aldermen when drafting policy that affects Chicago, and both said Lightfoot, who opposed the delay, did not engage aldermen, either.

Hairston dismissed concerns over lawsuits if the Council would have delayed pot sales, saying the city has paid over $1 billion in police misconduct and legal fees since 2004, more than this year’s budget deficit.

“We haven’t been worried about these lawsuits and not having the care and concerns when we’ve got our white cops shooting our black kids in the back,” Hairston said. “Some people are saying now that we estimate, just by holding this up for a little bit, that it would cost $5 million. Well, that’s the same amount that we gave to the Laquan McDonald family.”

During debate, King asked for a delay “so that we can get this right in the City of Chicago,” noting the city’s home-rule charter allows liberal prerogative over its affairs.

“I’ve never seen something start off on the wrong foot and end up on the right,” she said. “We live in a city that says it’s a welcoming city that welcomes diversity — but just not when it comes to our resources. And our mayor’s talked about that. We’ve talked about that. And we have to have more parity in resources, and this is an opportunity for us to get this right.”

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, the former 26th District state representative whom Pritzker hired to handle legislative affairs, took to Twitter to admonish the protesting aldermen. In a subsequent interview, he said Illinois’ marijuana legalization “is the model for the nation” for its social equity measures, which he said were “at the heart and soul and center of this process.”

The state’s 55 existing medical dispensaries can get a conditional adult-use recreational license for $100,000, he said, and it would cost them $200,000 to open a second site.

Mitchell said some of those fees are going into a revolving loan fund to be worth $30 million open to “social equity applicants” — those who live in an area disproportionately impacted by unemployment or poverty and higher-than-average cannabis arrests, those who have been or have a family member who has been arrested in the War on Drugs, or companies with more than 10 employees who hire a majority of workers who live in a disproportionately impacted area.

Applicants will pay a $5,000 application fee to open a recreational-use dispensary, but social equity applicants will only have to pay half that. After the meeting, Lightfoot said the city is “going to do everything we can to provide access to capital.”

For her part, Hairston said she was growing wary of the mayor’s reluctance to negotiate.

“And then the commentary is, ‘Well, they didn’t give us anything.’ She has the whole City Hall that can put together something,” Hairston said, adding that breaks with Lightfoot are going to happen from time to time, but she said she is wary of charges of irresponsibility when the mayor does not get her way.

A supposed promise from Pritzker’s administration to “earmark” a dispensary for Hyde Park and Chinatown came out after the meeting, but Jordan Abudayyeh, the governor’s spokeswoman, pushed back on the implication that the state government made a deal to defeat the bid to delay pot sales.

Currently, there are five more medical dispensary licenses available in Illinois. The state authorized 60 medical dispensaries under administrative rules and established districts with a set number of licenses available to geographically disperse them.

Districts in Chicago are organized by townships. Two dispensaries are allowed in Hyde Park Township, and one is authorized in South Township, which includes Chinatown. One medical dispensary, Mission Chicago South Shore Medical Marijuana Dispensary, 8554 S. Commercial Ave., exists in Hyde Park Township; there are none in South Township.

Revisions made to the Medical Cannabis Act in the spring added social equity standards to the medical cannabis program, but rulemaking is required to incorporate them into the application process. Abudayyeh says the rulemaking process is going on now.

“The state is working to finalize social equity standards for the remaining medical licenses and has to work through the rule-making process to get that done,” she said in a statement. “When the rules are approved, applications for the remaining medical licenses will be opened for applicants, and we will follow the application process to award those licenses.”

On Dec. 18, Ervin said he had not reviewed all the nuances of the administration’s plans, “but in principle, that is what was agreed to.

“I think that out push has always been for inclusion at this early level, with the dispensaries in the City of Chicago, so this moves us towards that goal,” he said.

Hyde Park Township extends far beyond Hyde Park neighborhood, but Hairston said several cannabis entrepreneurs have approached her about opening a dispensary in the 5th Ward. She said the incorporation of social equity rules into the medical dispensary licensing process is “what the Black Caucus was talking about” over the past week.

“There was really supposed to have been social equity all along, and the way it was set up, there was no sense of a social equity component. That’s what we were asking for.” she said on Dec. 19. “I think that we should have opportunity; there should be opportunity everywhere.”

Medical dispensaries statewide have until March 1 to apply to start selling recreational pot. Many in Chicago, including Mission Chicago South Shore, have already gotten permission to begin selling recreational pot on New Year’s Day.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com