During a recent Zoom session, West Side clergy, including Rev. Ira Acree, bottom right, urged Gov. Pritzker to do more to open the state’s fledgling but lucrative cannabis industry to Black and Brown people. (Austin Talks)

In a common refrain they’re getting tired of repeating, three influential West Side ministers pressed Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration to do more to open the state’s fledgling but lucrative cannabis industry to Black and Brown people.

“The process was not transparent, so when we blinked and looked up, everybody had dispensaries but people in our communities,” said Cy Fields, senior pastor of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church.

Fields was among ministers attending the Leaders Network‘s May meeting who spoke out forcefully about the way Illinois officials have doled out its first licenses to operate cannabis dispensaries.

The state’s first cannabis czar, former state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, briefly addressed the group, noting that 15 months after Illinois legalized recreational marijuana officials are working on legislation with state Rep. La Shawn Ford to handle the “unanticipated” problems that have arisen.

One of those problems, according to advocates for communities like the West Side hard hit by the war on drugs: No licensed marijuana business in the state has a person of color as a majority owner.

Under Ford’s plan, 110 new recreational cannabis licenses would be issued to existing applicants in a second lottery, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. In addition, five licenses that were never issued would be doled out to new applicants in a “Social Equity justice Involved Medical Lottery.”

Ford’s proposal revises the qualifications for earning social equity status to more specifically target people of color and those living in areas disproportionately harmed by the drug war, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“That will put hundreds of people” in the lottery,” said Danielle Perry, who was named the state’s cannabis regulation oversight officer last year. “It’s a blessing what (Ford is) doing. And it’s providing people with a second and a third chance” to get a license.

That did not sit right with some of the ministers attending Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

“We can’t say this is good news … This is not good, this is not right,” said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church. “As a moral leader, even though I don’t push cannabis, by the same token I want to use our moral forces to expose the hypocrisy and the diabolical fashion our communities have been treated.”

Now, Black and Brown business people must compete against the “Big Boys” whose communities weren’t harmed by the war on drugs, Acree said, adding there needs to be affirmative action to ensure Black communities get some of the licenses.

Last fall, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced that just 21 of the more than 900 dispensary applicants made the cut for the state’s first cannabis lottery.

Facing several lawsuits and criticism that many of the groups that qualified for the lottery included clouted and deep-pocketed individuals, Gov. Pritzker decided last year that losing applicants would be given another chance to fix their applications and challenge their scores.

“It’s hard to believe it was an accidental mishap. We’re always having to play catch up,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr., senior pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.

Pastor Fields told Perry, the governor’s point person on cannabis, that the Leaders Network wants to be very clear about their concerns and what they expect from the governor: “We will not forget this. Make no mistake, this issue is important, and we’re very passionate. … We won’t let this go.”

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