Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a plan in the works to diversify the mostly white entrepreneurs who are gearing up for the sale of recreational marijuana.
According to The Chicago Sun-Time, Lightfoot explained on Monday that she is “very serious” about the city growing its own recreational marijuana and she wants people of color to have a chance to learn the business and share the wealth.
Lightfoot said that up to $15 million generated by tax-increment financing could act as the seed money for a “cooperative cultivation center” that residents of color could “buy into” — either with a “modest cash investment” or with “sweat equity.” She said that the plan is intended to overcome the biggest impediment to minority ownership: access to capital.
“This is a very, very expensive business to get involved with. The basics to be a cultivator requires about a $13 million to $15 million investment. There are not a lot of people that have that, particularly in a market that a lot of banks and traditional lenders won’t touch,” she said. “I think the only way to really crack this nut is for the city to invest its own resources to get engaged, get diverse entrepreneurs involved in the most lucrative part of the business, which is cultivation.”
Along with the TIF money, Lightfoot said the $15 million can come from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and Catalyst Funds, which was created by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It uses funds generated by developers. In order to build taller and bigger buildings in a broader downtown area, these developers contribute to a fund that is then used to rebuild long-neglected neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides.
Ligthfoot discussed a city-owned cultivation center last week in response to a renewed threat by the City Council’s Black Caucus chairman to delay the start date for selling legal marijuana in Chicago from January 1 to July 1. However, the “rules are still being written” on whether it’s possible to issue a grow license to a public entity under the law, according to Kirsta Lisser, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture. “We really haven’t been posed with that question as of right now,” she said.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) is livid that Black people — who bore the brunt of the war on drugs — have “zero representation” among the owners of 11 medical marijuana dispensaries that would get a head start when recreational weed sales begin January 1. These 11 medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to instantly transition to recreational marijuana sales during the first year of legalization and have the exclusive right to open a second dispensary until late spring, when new businesses would finally have their moment to bid in.
Lightfoot hopes her co-op is an answer to this.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I would like to have the opportunity for the city to create a cooperative cultivation center so we can bring a professional in, let the professional run it. But then, people will buy into the cooperative — either with modest cash investment or sweat equity — and eventually, after they learn the business from top-to-bottom, turn that over to them,” she said. “This is a challenging issue. No question about it. This is a marketplace that was already created with medical marijuana. The vast majority of the people that are the entrepreneurs and business owners are white men. We know that. We will work as a city to make sure that we give opportunities for other people to be participants in this thriving market.”
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