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City Council OKs Expansion Of Jefferson Park Marijuana Dispensary, After Black Aldermen Sought Delay Over Concerns About Equity In Industry

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The City Council on Wednesday approved plans for a Jefferson Park marijuana dispensary to expand its operation into a neighboring storefront, despite efforts by a group of Black aldermen to delay over concerns that there are still no African American-owned pot businesses in Illinois.

Ald. Jason Ervin (29th), who chairs the City Council Black Caucus, asked Ald. James Gardiner (45th), whose ward includes the Columbia Care dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Av., to delay final approval of the expansion on Wednesday.

When Gardiner turned him down, Ervin asked his colleagues to vote against the expansion until the Illinois General Assembly passes a new law aimed at giving Black and Brown entrepreneurs a better shot at getting into the legal marijuana industry.

The Illinois House already has approved House Bill 1443, which creates more than 100 new pot shop licenses, and gives people of color a fair shot at winning them during the lottery process.

CBS 2's Tara Molina reported last month that as the state continued to rake in millions, not one minority-owned pot business had opened up shop yet because of state delays.

Ervin said he has no objections to the plans to expand the dispensary in Gardiner's ward, he just wants to ensure the new law is in place to help boost minority participation in the pot industry before any existing shops are allowed to expand.

"We should have solved this problem years ago," Ervin said. "Can we wait for equity? So that everybody can participate?"

Ervin's attempt to delay the approval of the Columbia Care dispensary failed, however, as aldermen voted 39-11 to allow it to go forward.

Gardiner said the expanded marijuana dispensary will bring in nearly $2.4 million a year in additional tax revenue for the city.

"There needs to be more equity in this industry, I do not argue that," Gardiner said, but he argued the extra tax revenue would benefit the entire city.

Not every member of the Black Caucus voted against the dispensary expansion.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said he warned two years ago when the state first legalized recreational marijuana that the Black community would not benefit from the rules Mayor Lori Lightfoot put into place for marijuana businesses in Chicago.

However, he said because the business in Gardiner's ward is already licensed, it wouldn't be right to prevent it from expanding.

Still, Beale said he would fight to make sure that Black entrepreneurs finally get their foot in the door in the marijuana industry in Illinois, noting he's introduced an ordinance to require City Council approval of any new dispensaries going forward in Chicago. Currently, dispensaries need approval from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals.

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