by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Despite complaints from aldermen about a lack of minority involvement in the burgeoning legal marijuana industry, a medical marijuana firm seeking to move from Lakeview to a larger facility in Wrigleyville won the backing of the City Council Zoning Committee on Tuesday.
With recreational marijuana becoming legal on Jan. 1, Cresco Labs, owners of MedMar Lakeview, are seeking to build a new dispensary at 3524 N. Clark St. so it can expand its current operations.
The 7-5 committee vote to approve the zoning change Cresco Labs was seeking followed strong pushback from several minority aldermen who are upset at a lack of African American and Latino ownership among existing medical marijuana firms.
"If you look at it nationally, there is very little if any African American participation in this industry," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
Several aldermen asked Cresco Labs what percentage of their investors and employees are minorities, but the company's executives said they could not provide such a breakdown.
Cresco Labs president and co-founder Joe Caltabiano said he and four partners co-founded the company in 2013, and brought in about 1,150 investors before taking the company public since then. However, he said he did not know how many of those investors were minorities or women.
"It's not a question we asked in our questionnaires. Everyone was welcome who was a qualified investor," he said.
However, he said he was absolutely certain the company had minority and women investors even before going public.
Caltabiano also said he could not provide a breakdown of the company's 1,500 employees nationwide, but assured aldermen they have a diverse workforce.
Minority participation in the legal marijuana industry has proved a sore point for the City Council's black caucus, which earlier this year introduced an ordinance that would have delayed recreational marijuana sales in Chicago until July. But the caucus backed down on plans to call that measure for a vote before the state law allowing recreational marijuana in Illinois goes into effect on Jan. 1.
The zoning change for MedMar's dispensary will go to the full City Council for a vote next week.
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