News and Commentary

Chicago Suburb Votes To Use Profits From Legal Pot Sales To Fund Reparations For Slavery
Legally operating Cannabis Shop, selling hemp products, in Krakow, Poland on November 9 2019. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Evanston, Illinois, a wealthy suburb of Chicago and home to Northwestern University, recently voted to allow legal cannabis dispensaries to open within the city limits, but instead of collecting on the profits, Evanston will put the money cannabis dispensaries eventually pay the city into a fund that will disperse reparations to the city’s black residents.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Evanston is hoping the measure will halt gentrification and keep the city “diverse,” though the city council did not go so far as to admit that the program could, essentially, pay minority residents to stay within the city limits. Instead, the city council claims that it merely wants to rectify past wrongs using a new, controversial source of city revenue.

“Evanston leaders say they see the dispensaries as an opportunity to pay for a local reparations program that would address the lingering institutional effects of slavery and discrimination,” the Tribune says.

“The tax on marijuana will ‘be invested in the community it unfairly policed and damaged,'” according to one supporter of the measure. “The plan stems from the idea that African Americans should disproportionately benefit from the sale of cannabis … because they have been disproportionately affected by the policing of marijuana — both nationally and locally.”

Evanston is no exception. The Tribune says that “three-quarters” of marijuana-related arrests in Evanston were of minorities.

The city, which has a reputation as a haven for so-called “limousine liberals,” isn’t new to the idea of reparations, though, just this particular program.

The Tribune reported last year that Evanston convened a committee to investigate the possibility of starting a reparations program after the city’s black population dropped, partly due to ongoing gentrification efforts and an ever-expanding Big Ten university in the city’s center. The Equity and Empowerment Commission came up with the plan to issue reparations before they came up with a source of funding for the program. Luckily for them, Illinois legalized recreational marijuana last summer; the two puzzle pieces fit neatly.

It’s especially convenient because the issue of dispensaries is deeply dividing suburban Chicagoans who were supportive of legalization but who have not been quite so supportive of cannabis dispensaries in their midst. Several suburbs have already voted to ban dispensaries within city limits and it’s possible Evanston would have been among them if not for the added detail of reparations.

But while they may know what they want to do with the money, Evanston officials don’t yet know how to make a reparations program happen. Evanston won’t be simply sending checks to the city’s black residents because, it seems, they’re concerned with what individuals might do with the money. In a paternalistic move, Evanston will instead “provide reparations in the form of assistance” by shuttling the money into a “fund” that they will use to support various “community programs” designed to help minorities, even if that’s not exactly what minorities who live in Evanston need.

“A committee of residents is currently examining ways to spend the money and how to best support the black community through housing, education and economic incentives. The fund will be capped at $10 million, according to city of Evanston staff reports. City estimates project the marijuana tax could generate $500,000 to $750,000 per year,” according to the Tribune.

There’s one big problem with Evanston’s plan, though: it’s not clear that the Constitution allows for money, gathered through taxation, to be put to use benefitting only a single race.

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