Last week, city council members in Evanston, Illinois voted to use marijuana sales tax revenue towards a fund meant to provide reparations to its Black community.

The city council voted 8 to 1 to institute a three percent tax on cannabis sales. The first $10 million generated over the next 10 years will go towards a plan to provide financial resources to Black individuals for a variety of uses. The plan is forecasted to generate between $500,000 and $750,000 a year, and the fund for reparations will also be open to other kinds of donations.

The plan is a multi-faceted strategy to combat the variety of issues facing Evanston’s Black community, which has also had to battle historic redlining practices, in addition to high rates of property tax and racist lending practices.

“This is something radical to preserve the Black population,” said Robin Rue Simmons to the Washington Post of the reparations fund. Simmons is an alderman from Evanston’s Fifth Ward, which has been home to a large segment of its Black residents.

“Our community was damaged due to the war on drugs and marijuana convictions. This is a chance to correct that,” she said. “Our disadvantage and discrimination has continued beyond outlawing Jim Crow and beyond enslavement.”

Simmons said the fund will entail direct financial support to Black individuals and families in matters like subsidizing down payments on a home, technical training for job seekers, and home repairs for long-term property owners.

Details of the plan will be hammered out at a town hall meeting on December 11.

The sole dissenting vote on the fund from alderman Thomas Suffredin was based on the perceived ambiguity of the fund. “In a town full of financial needs and obligations, I believe it is bad policy to dedicate tax revenue from a particular source, in unknown annual amounts, to a purpose that has yet to be determined,” he wrote in a newsletter.

A Continuing Effort to Mitigate Racial Disparity

An analysis of police activity over 36 months found that 71 percent of people arrested in Evanston were Black and 57 percent of citations went to Black residents — even though they only comprise 16.9 percent of the town’s population, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.

It’s not the first time that Evanston has opted to support efforts towards reparations. In 2002, its council unanimously approved plans to fund a federal investigation into reparations. The council has also created a position for a chief equity officer, as well as establishing a commission on equity and empowerment.

The plan is based on a provision built into the legislation that regulated cannabis in the state this summer, which prioritized social equity measures for individuals who had been unjustly targeted by war on drugs policing. On a state level, that measure has translated into a system that prioritizes cannabis entrepreneurs of color, plus those who live in a geographic area that saw heightened levels of drug war police activity.

Evanston is currently home to a sole medical marijuana dispensary, which will transition to become a recreational store on January 1 when Illinois’ legalization takes effect. If all goes according to plan, the business will fund a reparations plan that could prove influential for other Illinois towns and jurisdictions beyond state lines.

“There’s been nothing in place for black people that have been discriminated against in Evanston,” Simmons said. “Reparations is long overdue for the community. It’s long overdue for Black people in the United States.”

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