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Evanston cannabis proceeds to fund 'reparations'

Posted on December 5th, 2019 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , , .

IllinoisThe Chicago suburb of Evanston has become the first city in the United States to put revenues from legal cannabis sales into a "reparations" fund for the city's African American residents—seeking to redress harms not only from the war on drugs but a greater matrix of social injustice.

The city of Evanston, in the north of Illinois' metropolitan Cook County, is to begin putting sales tax revenues from legal cannabis into a fund created to for "reparations" to the suburban municipality's African American residents. Most immediately, the fund is aimed at halting the exodus of Blacks from Evanston as a result of a long legacy of discrimination.

The policy became official Nov. 25, when the City Council voted up 8-1 a measure in the 2020 budget that directs the first $10 million in revenue from legal cannabis sales into "separate fund in a City account for local reparations," itself approved by the council the previous month.

The initiative seeks to "address racially exclusionary policies that contributed to the lack of opportunity and underdevelopment of Black families and neighborhoods that have perpetuated and exacerbated the racial wealth gap in Evanston," according to an official announcement. The fund is to distribute $1 million a year over the next decade to "reparatory justice projects."

A first in the United States
As Chicago's CBS 2 notes, this is a step that no other city in the country has yet taken. But the problem it seeks to address couldn't be more evident—and is by no means atypical. Evanston's Black population decreased from 22.5% of the population in 2000 to 16.9% in 2017.

CBS 2 paid a visit to the home of one of Evanston's longtime Black residents, Toly Walker, as she was preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

"Despite the fact that I was born and raised here, and I live here, and I’m raising my kids here, I could not afford to buy here," Walker said.  

Walker emphasized that she believes she should have the basic requisites for success in life. "I'm educated not just enough to get my position—I have two masters degrees," she said.

And Walker acknowledged that this puts her in a better position than many. "What about people who don't? So they can't live here as homeowners? They have to rent forever? That's discouraging, and it's angering, and it should anger everyone if you believe in equity."

The reparations fund is mostly the brainchild of Evanston alderman (actually a woman) Robin Rue Simmons, who acknowledged that the idea is controversial. She declared on the measure's passage: "I'm offering no apologies. This is for black Evanston residents.... It is going to bring the impact our community that is overdue and is well-deserved."

Rue Simmons points to Evanston's legacy of "redlining," in which services were cut back to neighborhoods on a racial basis. "We were intentionally targeted," she was quoted by CBS 2. "The law, the policy, the actions, the culture of the community, intentionally excluded black residents."

Revenues in the fund will encourage Black-owned business start-ups and assist longtime residents like Walker.  Although the city is anticipating legal fights over allocation of the funds, Rue Simmons said she hopes the idea will be exported to other municipalities around the country facing similar dilemmas.

"This is the first that I've heard of in the nation," she said. "I'm hoping that it will be a model that other localities will explore."

A controversial term
Local Patch reports that actor and activist Danny Glover has been announced as the keynote presenter at an Evanston town hall meeting next week to discuss the reparations program. The event will be the culmination of a two-day visit to Evanston by commissioners from the National African American Reparations Commission, or NAARC, at the invitation of Rue Simmons.

Glover serves as ambassador for the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs through 2024, and has been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, since 2004. NAARC is a project overseen by longtime activist Ron Daniels, a distinguished professor at York College of the City University of New York and president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century

This is a particularly bold step for Evanston, as reparations and cannabis are each proverbial hot-button issues, both locally and nationally. The Evanston Review notes that many other Chicago suburbs have voted not to allow recreational cannabis dispensaries within their limits.

This June, Illinois became the 10th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, and the second (after Vermont) to do so by an act of the state assembly rather than by popular referendum. The law, which was supported by Gov. JB Pritzker, takes effect on Jan. 1, when the first retail sales are expected. But localities have the power to opt out of permitting sales.

There is currently one dispensaries operating in Evanston under the Illinois medical marijuana program, which was launched in 2013, with more slated to open soon. One of those listed is an outlet of the chain Verilife, which is one of eight new dispensaries just approved around the state, and is expected to serve the adult-use market, Chicago 5 reports.

There was controversy last year when New York's progressive gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nxon used the word "reparations" for her proposal for a cannabis legalization policy designed to address the racial injustices of cannabis prohibition. A group of Black pastors issued a letter blasting her use of the word as "clueless" and making light of the long struggle to redress the legacy of slavery. Nixon clarified that she meant reparations for the racial iniquities of the war on drugs, not slavery.

However, other prominent activists—such as Kassandra Frederique, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance—openly embrace the term "reparations" in the context of cannabis legalization, viewing the drug war abuses as part of a larger historical continuum stretching through slavery, Jim Crow and practices such as redlining.

In 2016, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent called on the United States to make "reparations" to African Americans, citing "the legacy of...enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality."

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Image from GreenwhichMeanTime

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