A Chicagoland suburb is set to initiate a historic reparations program that will be funded through revenue generated from the marijuana sales tax.
Officials in Evanston, Illinois on Monday “approved the first expenditures in the city’s landmark municipal reparations program designed to compensate Black residents for codified discrimination,” according to the Chicago Tribune, an initiative that is “designed to address the discriminatory housing policies and practices faced by Black residents.”
The Chicago Tribune reports that the $10 million “will be funded through marijuana sales tax revenue along with some donations,” a move that was greenlit by aldermen in Evanston back in 2019 that directed “all sales tax revenue collected from recreational marijuana purchases, with a cap of $10 million, to the local reparations fund.”
The resolution that was passed in 2019 was backed by a number of civil rights activists, including the actor Danny Glover. One of the Evanston leaders who spearheaded the charge for the reparations measure, Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons, said that the policy helped remedy two racial disparities: the disproportionate arrests of African-Americans for marijuana, and the inability for many Black residents to find affordable housing.
“Well, we know the history here in America. And it is not any different in our city of Evanston. We still have the impact of redlining in Jim Crow law and the Black-lived experience in Evanston today,” Rue Simmons told NPR in December of that year. “We have a large and unfortunate gap in wealth, opportunity, education, even life expectancy. The fact that we have a $46,000 gap between census tract 8092, which is the historically red-line neighborhood that I live in and was born in, and the average white household led me to pursue a very radical solution to a problem that we have not been able to solve—reparations.”
Rue Simmons said at the time that the measure would “impact all Black residents.”
“We want to preserve our existing Black residency, which helps us preserve our diversity. In addition, it will include bringing repair to families and returning citizens with a particular focus on those that have been impacted by marijuana arrests,” Rue Simmons said in the same interview.
Illinois and Cannabis Reform
Illinois paved the way for marijuana legalization in 2019, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation ending prohibition on recreational pot use. Legal weed sales officially kicked off on New Year’s Day 2020, and in the first year, the state generated $582,226,511.45 in revenue from recreational pot sales. That tax windfall has been accompanied by an effort from the state to redress previous low-level pot convictions in Illinois.
The state has expunged thousands of previous such convictions since the new law took effect. Pritzker opened this year with more of the same, with more than 9,200 pardons to individuals previously arrested for pot-related offenses.
“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said at the time. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward. I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality.”