CALUMET HEIGHTS — Neither Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) nor the CEO of a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in Calumet Heights attended a community meeting on Saturday about the business, which long-time residents said left them feeling disrespected and insulted.
“I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t shocked, but I was angry because [Ald. Harris] continues to disrespect the ward, and now she wants to bring this dispensary here,” said Linda Hudson, a resident of Avalon Park and member of the Eighth Ward Accountability Coalition, which hosted the event.
Calls and emails to Harris' office were not returned Sunday morning.
According to Desiree Tate, a spokeswoman for Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine, CEO Lester Hollis didn’t attend because he didn’t want to get into a “contentious” situation with the community.
She said Hollis isn’t opposed to meeting with the community, but didn’t believe that Saturday’s meeting would give him a fair chance to address them.
The Eighth Ward Accountability Coalition hosted the meeting at St. Felicitas Catholic Church, 1526 E. 84th Street on Saturday afternoon. The coalition, which formed during the 2015 aldermanic race, opposes the dispensary, which would be located at 1111 E. 87th St., mainly for two reasons: quality of life and quality of ownership.
Hollis arranged a different meeting at the Chatham Business Association’s headquarters, 806 E. 78th St. on Aug. 11.
Executive Director of the Chatham Business Association, Melinda Kelly, attended Saturday's meeting and said she is open to learning more about the benefits of medical marijuana.
“I am anxious to participate and learn more about the external benefits of medicinal marijuana as IGM engages CBA and other residential and faith-based groups to listen to and hear our united voices,” she said.
Some of Saturday's attendees argued that out of all the communities in Chicago, it doesn’t make sense for the dispensary to open up in their community, which they say is home to predominantly black middle to upperclass families.
Jerry Brown, one of the coalition’s organizers, said that they held the meeting so CEO Lester Hollis of Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine could share with the community the benefits of medical marijuana and basically “make his case.”
Hollis, who did not show up, was invited, Brown said. He said he emailed him five times, sent two formal invitations and called him everyday since Monday.
“Mr. Brown is not willing to listen to the truth,” said Tate, Harborside spokeswoman. “He has his own propaganda that he wants to communicate to the community.”
“We have a planned strategy to meet and make sure that correct and accurate information is given to residents and business owners in that community,” Tate said, referencing the upcoming meeting at CBA, “because we respect them, and plan to work in partnership with them.”
“We have to ensure facts are provided that will afford residents the opportunity to make an informed decision,” CBA's Kelly said. “We will work with our peer organizations and other community groups to consider the job creation and business to business opportunities the proposed dispensary may create within our commercial corridors.”
When Harris, who won reelection in February, was a no-show Saturday, some residents said they didn’t really expect her to attend.
“It’s just a total disrespect. She continues to disrespect the constituents, and whether we voted for her or not, we live in this ward. This is our ward, and we’re not going away," Hudson said. "So if the dispensary comes here, they’re going to be on check."
Another attendee said many people had faith in Harris when she was first elected in 2006, but that has quickly changed.
“It’s disappointing because I think a lot of people had high hopes the first time she was elected,” said Marcel Bright of Calumet Heights.
He said that Harris hasn’t held any community meetings on this important topic that will affect people living in Calumet Heights and surrounding neighborhoods like Chatham and Avalon Park.
Brown said that the coalition is circulating petitions. On Saturday he didn’t have a number of signatures, but he said about 250 people attended the meeting. Their goal is to get at least 1,000 so that they can present them at the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on August 21.
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