Chicagoans don’t want Rahm Emanuel to be their mayor. It’s a truth so plain that the incumbent recently announced he would not run for re-election to a third term—an unprecedented move for a two-term Chicago mayor. And after a career of opposing or deferring on the issue of legalizing adult-use cannabis, the outgoing mayor now says he wants to legalize weed to address Chicago’s $27 billion public worker pension crisis. According to an unnamed source, Emanuel will give a major public address later this afternoon in which he will propose legal marijuana and a casino as solutions to the city’s dire financial predicament.
“Mayor 1%” Calls for Legal Weed to Pay for Pensions His Administration Gutted
During his tenure as Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel has consistently sided with the rich at the expense of the poor. He provided massive subsidies and tax breaks to the world’s wealthiest executives and corporations, relentlessly attacked public education and public sector services and covered up the brutal police murder of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager. His extreme austerity policies prompted the massive 2012 Chicago Teacher’s Union strike. It’s a track record that earned Emanuel the nickname “Mayor 1%.”
Chicago’s pension crisis didn’t emerge out of a vacuum. Rather, it is the direct result of Emanuel’s political and economic agenda. So the outgoing mayor’s calls to legalize weed and open a casino to deal with that crisis need to be seen in this context. The massively underfunded pension program is Emanuel’s doing. And now that it’s politically expedient to do so, the Chicago mayor says he wants to legalize weed—a proposal he’ll have no obligation or opportunity to follow through on. Indeed, he passed on that opportunity in 2015, when he said during his re-election campaign that he didn’t “think you should balance the budget by promoting recreational smoking of pot.”
Three years down the road, Chicago’s public worker pension funds are facing a $27 billion dollar shortfall. The city also needs to come up with an additional $267 million by 2020 to cover increasing police and fire pension contributions and another $310 million by 2022 to cover the municipal and laborers’ fund.
Can Legal Weed and a Casino Rescue Chicago’s Finances?
In leaked portion’s of the mayor’s upcoming public address, Emanuel calls for directing tax revenue from legal adult-use cannabis and gambling to the city’s pension funds. “These contributions must be made,” Emanuel says. “There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.” While the mayor acknowledges there’s no single solution to such an expansive crisis, he does feel that weed and casino revenue could go a long way toward resolving issues with Chicago’s finances. But at the same time, Emanuel is also calling for changes to Illinois’ Constitution that would eliminate the state’s obligation to give retired workers a 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment.
That sleight of hand isn’t likely to go unnoticed by Chicagoans. But Emanuel’s overtures toward legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis are a bellwether of where the state’s politics are heading. Chicago mayoral candidate La Shawn Ford, for example, is campaigning on a progressive social justice platform that includes legalizing cannabis. And Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker has vowed to push forward with legalizing marijuana across Illinois.