Parker Schorr, Wisconsin Watch
CHICAGO - The historic hub of black culture on the south side of Chicago called Bronzeville bears the marks of disinvestment common to many of the city’s black-majority neighborhoods.
Along the expansive South Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, lines of greystones alternate in and out of disrepair, and many of the district’s blocks that were once home to vibrant institutions — earning it the name “Black Metropolis” — are now mottled with overgrown, vacant lots. A census tract within the area is one of the poorest in the city.
But for Seke Ballard and Seun Adedeji, the area is ripe for reinvestment because — not in spite — of it being disadvantaged.
In late June, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law legalizing the recreational use of cannabis that lowers the barrier of entry to the industry for places like Bronzeville and its residents who have been disproportionately harmed by past cannabis laws and poverty. It takes effect Jan. 1.
Though blacks nationwide use marijuana at similar rates to whites, they are much more likely to face criminal penalties for using it. In Wisconsin, blacks are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for pot possession, where all uses are illegal.
Ballard and Adedeji envision a Bronzeville, a Chicago and an Illinois revitalized by a cannabis industry that is operated by people reflecting the diversity of the state and creating an ecosystem of businesses — including security camera installers, construction contractors and restaurants — to support it.
“It’s a snowball effect, and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people who come from communities that look exactly like this community that we’re in now to really use that spark to jump-start economic development in those areas,” says Ballard, a Harvard-educated businessman and founder of Good Tree Capital, a firm that lends money to small cannabis businesses.