Black Caucus has been seeking delays on Jefferson Park marijuana dispensary expansion, but Alderman Gardiner expects vote on May 26
by BRIAN NADIG
The expansion of the Columbia Care marijuana dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Jefferson Park has been held up for months at the request of the City Council Black Caucus despite support for the project from Alderman James Gardiner (45th) and local community groups.
Gardiner said that more delays will continue to cost the city revenue, as the proposed expansion he said is expected to generate an additional $1 million in taxes a year.
"We should be looking to generate revenue from flourishing industries that are able and willing to pay more taxes such as the marijuana industry instead of looking for ways to place that burden on the backs of residents. … That’s why I voted ‘no’ the last 2 years on raising property taxes," Gardiner said, adding he fears another increase will be approved this year by the council.
Columbia Care, which sells medical and recreational cannabis, is seeking a zoning change in order to expand its operations into a neighboring storefront. The proposal was well received at a community meeting hosted by Gardiner earlier this year, and the council’s Zoning Committee approved the proposal.
Gardiner said that before the full council could vote on the proposal in February, the 20-member caucus requested a 30-day delay due to concerns about the lack of minority-ownership in the marijuana industry in Chicago. In 2019, the caucus attempted to delay the sale of recreational marijuana in the city for similar reasons but it was unsuccessful.
Gardiner said that another delay was granted in March but that he would not agree to a third delay and sought approval of the zoning proposal at the April 21 council meeting. However, the council by a 26 to 24 vote decided not to call the measure.
"I’m willing to help negotiate between Columbia and the caucus, but the Black Caucus has not come with an ask" as to what it would want Columbia to do, Gardiner said.
"I understand the concerns about the need for minority ownership in the industry, … but this is an existing business."
Gardiner added that Columbia has a good track record of operating in Chicago, has hired a diverse workforce and has demonstrated a desire to help African-American applicants obtain a cannabis license.
According to Columbia, its board is 14 percent Black and 14 percent female, and the makeup of its Jefferson Park staff includes 32 percent Hispanic, 23 percent Black, 4 percent Asian and 5 percent non-binary. The company also said that it has assisted two Chicago-based, Black-led groups on assembling a cannabis license application under the state’s social equity program.
Gardiner said that he expects the council at its May 26 meting will approve Columbia’s zoning application.
"I’m confident there will be a resolution to this problem," he said.
Meanwhile, the council’s decision this month to reject Gardiner’s call for a vote on the proposal was highly unusual given that members usually follow the practice of "aldermanic prerogative." It means they defer local matters, such as zoning, to the alderman whose ward would be most affected by a measure.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that the council’s decision in the Columbia matter is more evidence of the erosion of the practice.
He has expressed concern that aldermen could lose their control on zoning, leaving their constituents with less of a voice.
Opponents to aldermanic prerogative argue that some aldermen have abused the practice to keep low-income and affordable housing out of their wards. However, despite these concerns, the practice is still widely followed, as few – if any – aldermen want to lose local control.