At first, we were excited to hear a medical and recreational marijuana dispensary wants to relocate just blocks from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.
Then we learned it was owned by one of the largest marijuana companies in the U.S. — Verano — which operates 93 dispensaries across the U.S.
Even though it would be great to have convenient access to legal weed, it’s important to remember that legal cannabis sales only came in the aftermath of the disastrous and deadly war on drugs.
Legal marijuana sales in the U.S. topped $20 billion in 2020, with the majority of weed companies owned by white people, POLITICO reported. Meanwhile, Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana, according to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
This disparity has remained nearly unchanged in the last decade, with the ACLU’s 2013 report of a similar nature finding nearly the exact same discrepancies in arrests nationwide.
During a meeting hosted by the 49th Ward, community members brought up valid concerns that the dispensary’s move, arguing the marijuana industry — Verano included — isn’t doing enough to address this disparity or adequately support people convicted of marijuana charges.
Verano’s spokesperson Steve Mazeika told The Phoenix the company partners with many organizations to offer “a variety of philanthropic and supportive services,” including Legal Aid Chicago which advises people with cannabis offenses about the expungement process.
Mazeika also mentioned a $50,000 donation to Mission Green, which they plan to “further engage” with this year, and donations to Chicago-based organizations such as Howard Brown Health and Keshet, a non-profit that holds programs for people with disabilities.
But by allowing already existing, predominantly white corporations to expand and gain a foothold in communities — smaller dispensaries owned by people of color aren’t able to get a leg up.
When it comes to restorative justice — how can allowing these companies to expand going to undo the damage caused by decades of cannabis criminalization?
The simple answer is it won’t, and the only way to do so is to support local businesses of the same nature.
Rogers Park deserves a dispensary reflective of, and from the community. Not another Big Weed shop dominating an unjust industry taking Rogers Park a step backward.