A Will County Board member is pushing for an ambitious proposal to use tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales to redress the effects of policies that have disproportionately hurt African Americans.
Member Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, presented the resolution, titled “Repairing the Transgenerational Damage Done through Slavery, the Black Codes, the War on Drugs, and Mass Incarceration in Will County, IL,” at the Democratic caucus meeting last week.
The proposal aims to form a committee tasked with upholding the county’s “commitment to the eradication of the effects of systemically racist policies and practices.”
To do so, the committee would advise the county on how to use the tax revenue to help Black residents. It would be made up of nine members, all of whom would be Black.
Since the Will County Board approved a tax on recreational marijuana sales and voted to set the revenue into a special fund, members have debated on and off for months on how to spend the money. Ventura has argued for using the money to help Black residents in communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.
Ventura said she’s seen what other municipalities, such as Evanston, have done to reinvest marijuana tax revenue into reparations programs, but wanted Black residents to be involved with the decision because they have been the ones most affected.
“As a white woman who has not been impacted by this, I really don’t have every idea and every solution out there because it hasn’t impacted my life,” she said.
Ventura has been meeting with residents from around Will County who say they support the push to use the money for reparations.
Daryl Parks, a Black retiree from Bolingbrook, said he supports the resolution and called it a “very positive step” in beginning to address past harms against African Americans.
“My main focus is to make sure that the money is in the hands of the people who have been most affected by these laws,” he said.
Parks and other supporters of the plan also argued the amount of money in the program is somewhat secondary to their goal of a “transfer of power.” Ventura said they want the committee to formulate a plan for “whatever is best for the community,” although the County Board would be the ultimate decider.
While the resolution still faces a number of hurdles, some of the Black members of the Will County Board say they generally approve of its main objective.
Margaret Tyson, D-Bolingbrook, said she thought reinvesting the money into predominately Black communities is “necessary.” She said she would be open to using the money to help Black residents who want to enter into the recreational marijuana industry pay for hefty license fees.
The Rev. Herbert Brooks Jr., D-Joliet, said he thought the proposal represented a “good start” for a discussion on how to use the funds.
“I like the idea of reparations, period,” Brooks said. “Whether that document is workable, I don’t know yet.”
Republican Steve Balich called the proposal “absurd” and “highly political.” He argued the money should just be used to pay for expunging records for past marijuana charges and for drug rehabilitation programs.
“I’m dead against what she’s doing,” Balich said, referring to Ventura.
Balich also questioned the premise that African Americans have been disproportionately punished for marijuana-related offenses. Several studies, such as a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, have shown that while Black and white people use the drug at similar rates, Black people were more likely to be arrested for doing so.
During the caucus meeting last week, other Democratic board members said they supported the aim of the proposal. Some members asked Ventura about some proposed requirements, such as that the committee members all be Black and that they be paid a monthly stipend of $500.
Ventura has voiced a willingness to adjust the proposal, and said she already has some changes she’d like to make to the text.
Supporters of the proposal said they anticipate a spirited discussion about the particulars of the resolution. But they insist white county elected officials should have the “courage” to begin rectifying past wrongs and involve Black residents in that process.
“Fundamentally, I want them to have the courage to stand up and say, ‘It’s time that we (white elected officials) take a back seat,’” Parks said. “We’re not talking about a lot of money, but ... this is a paradigm shift to be able to say this is your money. This is your board. This is your committee. Run it and do some positive things with it.”