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Public radio stations throughout Illinois joined forces to tackle the issue of marijuana as the state considers making recreational use legal.

Black Caucus Wants A Cannabis Equity Commission

Office of state Rep. Sonya Harper
State Rep. Sonya Harper, a Chicago Democrat, is chairwoman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus

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. 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 Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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