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Black Caucus Wants A Cannabis Equity Commission

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State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) speaking at a bill signing in 2019.

SPRINGFIELD — State Rep. Sonya Harper was among the most vocal critics of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s attempt to distribute cannabis dispensary licenses through a lottery.

The scoring put minority applicants at a disadvantage, said Harper, a Chicago Democrat who is the new chairwoman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. 

Now, Harper says she likes efforts by the administration to slow down and rethink the process. The caucus wants to see changes in the cannabis tax act that would include the creation of a social equity commission.

She is also a member of the governor’s working group on cannabis, which is looking at scoring of applications for dispensary licenses.

“So, while I wasn’t happy with how things turned out, at first, I am hopeful that we’re now working together to make whatever tweaks you need to make the cannabis legislation as equitable as we want,’’ she said.

She said she wants to see a larger, more diverse pool of applicants. The lottery this fall produced only 24 qualified applicants for 75 dispensary licenses .

“Now that we’re at the table again, that is one of the biggest things that we’re trying to get to,” she said.

Because of the scoring – and failed efforts to allow applicants to address problems with the applications – there was an emphasis on wealthy interests winning licenses, she said.  She also said she doesn’t believe applicants can go to multiple geographic regions.

“If I’m from Chicago, and … I have enough money to put in 10 applications down in the East St. Louis area, then I’m stepping on someone’s toes in St. Louis, you understand? So that’s what we were looking at as well,” Harper said. “We want it to be fair to the geographic areas, but also make sure that that that we’re going about in an equitable manner.”

The caucus had suggested tweaks to the original legislation, she said, and will continue to push for changes in law.

Maureen McKinney is a reporter for NPR Illinois in Springfield.

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