By Kai EL’ Zabar
Defender Executive Editor
Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: Good or Bad?
In 2014 when the medical marijuana law passed in the state of Illinois under Governor Pat Quinn, it was presented as a four-year pilot and touted as having the most stringent of regulations in the country. Patients that suffer with acute pain and other ailments helped by marijuana were elated and expressed their support very publicly.
In the first attempt to sort out the complicated logistics of launching a medical cannabis program, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted 48 pages of draft regulations online, which in and of itself narrowed down the would-be medical marijuana dispensary owners. Some of the regulations such as requiring patients to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check and pay $150 a year to get a special photo ID under proposed regulations immediately raised the eyebrows of those in need. The annual fee is steep for many and their health at risk until they are able to obtain a legal card. The regulations also challenge businessmen and women who would be medical marijuana store owners. They too are scrutinized as to they’re character and financial ability to run and manage a store of its type.
And for Black patients seeking medical marijuana, they won’t find it in their own backyard, despite its legalization.
Chicago’s Black communities were shunned by groups applying for dispensaries. Mattie Hunter, who has cancer, is allowed to buy marijuana legally from a dispensary instead of on the street.
“It’s risky if you purchase marijuana illegally, because you don’t know what you’re getting,” she says, adding that too many people add unknown crap to the MJ and that could be very dangerous to your disease or illness. “So I’m happy about being able to go to a trusted source.”
But Hunter and scores of Blacks suffering from ailments that are allotted medical cannabis treatment had not been able to buy it in their neighborhoods, because early on no one had applied to open a dispensary in Chicago’s predominantly Black South and West side communities. In fact, potential vendors didn’t even try.
Kathie Kane Willis, a drug policy researcher at Roosevelt University, explained that it concerned her numerous locations were approved in the city, mostly North Side communities such as Wicker Park, West Town and Andersonville.
“The fact that African Americans have to travel distances that white folks don’t have to travel to get their medicine is to me unfair and unjust,” Willis says.
There are factors that may have made Black communities less attractive to dispensary applicants. They include the difficulty of finding a location away from schools, day care centers and parks — and patients who can afford to pay. That’s not the half of it. Knowing that medical marijuana is not covered by insurance is another consideration that could have deterred potential dispensary owners.
Unfortunately “It’s the same philosophy that leads to the food deserts, that lead to lack of quality education, lack of health care,” according to state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago. “It is disturbing.”
Advocates for medical marijuana dispensaries in Black communities have urged the state to figure out how to get them in underserved communities.
Well recently one Black man, Les Hollis was finally approved as a medical cannabis dispensary CEO and has plans to set up shop in Chatham.
However, the 8th Ward Accountability Coalition formed during the 2015 elections met in July because it opposes Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine, of California-based Harborside Health Center and Illinois Grown Medicine. The medical marijuana dispensary would be located 1111 E. 87th St.
The coalition says its primary concern is the quality of life for those in its community and the quality of the ownership. Apparently research uncovered the not so clean background of Harborside founder Steven DeAngelo. However he is not allowed to participate in the business operations. In his stead DeAngelo’s brother will facilitate the operation.
The coalition describes the small neighborhoods of Marynook, Avalon Park, Chatham as predominately Black residents of either middle class or upper-middle class status who take care of their property and believe in keeping up the quality of life and maintaining a good value system. They believe that the medical dispensary will seriously affect that and that the increase foot traffic won’t be good for the quiet community.
What isn’t mentioned is the decline in Chatham, which is far from being the well-to-do thriving community it used to be because of the booming Black-owned businesses that once dominated the community, Ultra Sheen, Soft Sheen, Seaway Bank, Travis Reality, Shabazz Restaurant, Our Super Market, Kham and Nates etc.
It seems that medical marijuana is the new ground -breaking prohibition that can help lives awhile helping to turn around the economic conditions by creating so many job opportunities. The medical dispensary is just the product dispensary, but there’s so much more behind it. Though the coalition presents a case based upon its concern for the community, it seems contradictory to have researched one side of the proposal. Would the coalition research a pharmacy that planned to move into the same space? Pharmaceutical drugs are some of the most deadly, having an even greater devastating impact on our communities causing more deaths and suffering than reported. And mind you they, employ very few Blacks, and hire even less as Pharmaceutical sales reps to reap economic gains.
It also claims that the address of the proposed medical marijuana site violates a law; “the state law is clear that minimum distances from parks, schools and residential areas be maintained, and the proposed location violates this statute.”
Black people, don’t miss the big picture here. Marijuana is sold in the alleys, across the street and next door to you. Allowing legalized medical marijuana to be sold in our community will put an end to the illegally sold pot and change the game by helping to clean up and prop up our neighborhoods. It will have the opposite affect and impact. It could help our communities flourish.
Schools and colleges can begin a new curriculum around the biology, chemistry and agricultural aspect of marijuana. For instance, hemp, a cannabis plant, and its products, including fiber, oil and seed, are refined into products such as hemp seed foods, hemp oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel.
All of this is where the world is going why would we block the immediate medical impact that the dispensaries affect and all those economic-based opportunities that come with it?