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The city of Illinois uses the weed sales tax to make amends

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Evanston, Illinois is the first US city to use marijuana taxes to restore the black community

The city of Evanston, IL has pledged to correct its historical damage through reparations funded by a local tax on legal cannabis sales. Extensive studies and endorsements by Robin Rue Simmons, Alderwoman of the 5th District, and local historian Dino Robinson led to the resolution, which was first passed in 2019.

Blank vector map of Evanston, Illinois, USA

As an Illinois community of nearly 74,000 residents, Evanston was included in the enactment of the Cannabis Ordinance and Tax Act that went into effect in the state in 2020.

While the law legalized adult cannabis in the city, it didn’t necessarily correct the injustices it had shared for decades. Originally from Evanston, Alderman Simmons knew firsthand what significant changes would be in their community.

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Simmons describes her upbringing on the new ABC News series Soul of a Nation. In the first episode of the series, Simmons explains the nuances of growing up in a resource-poor area that is drastically different from the wide streets and manicured lawns of her white friends.

A look at Evanston, IL

Though the city prides itself on its liberal Chicagoland culture and fondly known as the home of Northwestern University, Evanston’s black community has traditionally been underserved by its government and police force.

According to the ACLU, Illinois ranks third in the nation for racial disparities in marijuana arrests, including a black and white arrest ratio of over 7 to 1.

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Illinois Marijuana Laws

Simmons says that 70% of marijuana arrests were made in Evanston’s black community, even though black people make up only 16% of the city’s population.

In addition to unjust arrest rates, Evanston’s black community has also faced discrimination, black codes, and alienation from the city’s economic opportunities.

Today, the white residents of Evanston earn slightly less than twice as much as the black residents, and the white residents enjoy almost twice as many home values ​​as their black neighbors. However, these astounding differences are in line with reports that nationally black wealth is only 15% of white wealth in the United States.

Much (but by no means all) of this inequality in Evanston results from redlining the practice of denying mortgages and home ownership to African Americans. Home ownership is the way America’s greatest wealth is created and passed down from generation to generation. And it’s a luxury that many African Americans have been denied since slavery ended, including the black residents of Illinois.

The case for cannabis reparations

Evanston isn’t the first city to use cannabis tax revenue for programs for disenfranchised communities. However, it is the first company to specifically fund reparations made available to African American residents of a community for the serious damage inflicted on them and their ancestors.

Evanston’s program is a local model version of reparations programs currently under study in other parts of the US, including a national Congressional bill, HR40 – the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

Reparations, long championed by author Ta-Nehisi Coates, are a tangible means of uplifting the black community, breaking down barriers, and alleviating centuries of wrongdoing.

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Illinois legally sells $ 1 million a day worth of cannabis

From the 1865 imagination of 40 acres and a mule, to free tuition fees, to direct payments to the descendants of enslaved people, reparations have taken many forms. But it seems like Evanston is up to something new by earmarking cannabis dollars for this purpose.

A development of 40 hectares

Tax Concept with Word on Folder.

Evanston plans to pay out a total of $ 10 million over a ten year period from a fund backed by a local 3% cannabis excise tax. This fund is expected to provide payments of $ 25,000 to residents of Black Evanston and their descendants who persisted in the area through redlining practices and the northern Jim Crow brand.

“Throughout history, taxes have been used to help a certain group of people while others have been excluded,” says Dino Robinson on Soul of a Nation.

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On the show, the historian sets out a careful case for reparations in Evanston. He recalls that for years black families were only allowed to live in Evanston’s 5th district, while white neighbors in other districts amassed wealth and resources. The practice left many black families behind and made it harder to live in the community than it should have been.

Alderwoman Simmons was determined to use the tax revenue from cannabis for reparations. In discussing what it will take to break the city out of its damaging historical patterns, she says, “The only legislative response for us to reconcile the damage in the black community is reparations.”

And while the $ 25,000 payments are just the tip of the iceberg in Evanston, IL, this is a historic moment for the US and cannabis. One that we hope to see explored and repeated across the country.

Janessa Bailey

Janessa was born and raised in the Midwest. She is the current arts editor for Leafly. She has a background in content, activism, and African American studies.

Show article by Janessa Bailey

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