Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas, right | Image source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

There is a cannabis conundrum in Chicago as the city’s registered voters line up to elect its next mayor by April 4. 

Home to a critical mass of cannabis corporations, including Cresco Labs, Green Thumb Industries, Verano Holdings, PharmaCann, and a reasonable portion of Curaleaf (through the MA-based company’s 2020 acquisition of Grassroots Cannabis), Chicago is often touted as the commercial cannabis capital of the world. Nothing at this juncture, however, should ever be taken for granted. 

While the city has many necessary ingredients to become a cannabis capital, how the next mayoral administration treats issues like zoning, public consumption licenses and industrial hemp production will determine whether it really becomes “the Silicon Valley of Weed.” 

We can’t forget that the Internet industry was conceived in nearby Champaign-Urbana a generation ago by Marc Andreessen before he took his talents and the Mosaic browser to Northern California. Civic leaders and Internet OGs alike throughout the state are still smarting over that one. 

Chicago can do better with this generation’s most prominent ascending industry. 

Earlier this week, at Cannabis Innovation Lab, we asked a panel of industry leaders and social justice activists what they expect from a mayor Paul Vallas or mayor Brandon Johnson. The cannabis constituents offered extensive free advice.

“I think everybody needs to put the pressure on both of these guys and find out where they stand, and then hold them accountable for whatever they say.”

Doug Kelly, Cannabis Equity of Illinois Coalition

Kelly pointed to zoning constraints for cannabis dispensaries to operate, “we need to give more people access to buildings in the city and give social equity people a break”, as well as misguided rules pertaining to the ability to purchase and consume cannabis within the same location. 

“Chicago is leaving tons of taxpayers money throwing them away because they won’t allow consumption, events, concerts, I just don’t understand the hesitation,” Kelly said.”

“Illinois and Chicago and most other states are ignoring Hemp on an industrial level and I don’t know why. What are we doing to lower the barriers, and what are we doing to create job opportunities producing Hemp textiles, particularly for those impacted (by the war on drugs.)”

Shawnee Williams, Illinois Equity Staffing

Williams also said a major and overlooked issue for the city and state is how to provide commercial opportunities for licensed cannabis transporters who invested considerable time and money preparing for a market that does not yet exist.

“We kind of set the transporters up for failure from the jump, and if we don’t figure out delivery and other forms of income for transporters that’s going to be the next issue,” she said.

“This goes back to overall alignment. What’s the mission, vision and purpose of having a cannabis industry in Illinois because they keep doing things that go against what they think our purpose is.”

Sparky Rose, SuperCritical

Our purpose requires clearer communication and collaboration from all stakeholders in the Chicago and Illinois cannabis industry. 

This Friday, March 24, Grown In will convene the largest cannabis companies in Illinois with the next generation of startup operators getting ready to open their doors. 

We have confirmed participation from multiple state of Illinois regulators from the departments of Agriculture and Finance and Professional Regulation during this private wholesale conference. 

We welcome the Vallas and Johnson campaigns to visit the epicenter of cannabis commerce in Chicago, listen to their constituents and properly plan for the city’s central place in the ascending industry. 

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.