Black Lives Matter: Cannabis Sales Issue Is 'Struggle For Reparations' | WGLT

Black Lives Matter: Cannabis Sales Issue Is 'Struggle For Reparations'

Nov 13, 2019

A leader with the local Black Lives Matter chapter is urging the Bloomington City Council to allow cannabis sales as a form of reparations for the drug war’s injustices against people of color.

Black Lives Matter was hoping for a big turnout at Wednesday’s 4 p.m. Bloomington Planning Commission meeting. The commission is looking at zoning issues related to where cannabis businesses could be located. The city council is expected to make a final decision on whether to allow cannabis businesses in Bloomington—and if so, where they can go—in December.

Olivia Butts from the BLM Bloomington-Normal leadership team said her group is lobbying for cannabis sales to be allowed. They’re calling it a “struggle for reparations.”

“Then we’d get to see someone from the black or brown community—someone who has been affected by the war on drugs or marijuana—opening a business here,” Butts said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “We’d like to see some entrepreneurship.”

Butts said black people make up only 15% of Illinois’ population but 60% of cannabis-related arrests. She said that’s a staggering disparity.

“We’re looking at this as a way to make up for a little bit of what’s happened in the past,” she said.

Those looking to open a cannabis dispensary—in a community that hasn’t opted out of sales—will apply to the state. In the first year following legalization of cannabis, state statutes would allow a total of three dispensaries in the combined area of McLean and DeWitt counties.

The state will score applicants on a scale of 1 to 200, with 25 points specifically designated for so-called “social equity applicants.” They can get bonus points if their store will be owned mostly by someone living in a “disproportionately impacted” area—with high rates of arrest, conviction, and incarceration related to cannabis, plus higher rates of poverty and unemployment—or if most of their employees live in such an area. Bonus points will also be available for majority owners who were previously arrested for or convicted of any offense that is now eligible for expungement under the new cannabis law.

Butts said the Bloomington City Council should fully embrace the state law’s social equity components, including technical assistance, low-interest loans and fee reductions for qualifying applicants.

“It would be hard to watch the City Council oppose something that would give black and brown folks the chance to become entrepreneurs in Bloomington,” said Butts, who also served on the city's Cannabis Task Force.

Butts said she also hopes the Planning Commission takes into account accessibility when considering where a cannabis business can locate. Being on a bus route is key for employees and customers who don't have a car, she said.

Black Lives Matter has been critical of what it calls “obstructionist members of the Bloomington City Council” who may oppose allowing cannabis sales.

“I’m not sure that what you think about marijuana should be up for debate, because the state has already decided it’s going to be legal,” Butts said.

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