Hundreds rallied outside the Illinois Capitol Thursday to push for a dedicated stream of revenue from marijuana sales to go toward violence reduction and programs that boost communities that have been disproportionately affected by the enforcement of lower-level drug offenses.
A controversial provision in Gov. J.B. Pritzker's recreational cannabis legalization proposal is the expungement of some drug convictions, an element the bill's sponsors said this week is likely to undergo changes. The governor's initial proposal also allocated 25% of tax revenue generated by pot sales for community reinvestment.
Ciera Walker, executive director of Live Free Chicago, encouraged the crowd at a rally in front of the Capitol to keep the pressure on lawmakers as they continue to debate legislation.
"What I'm most concerned about is the hundreds of lives we've lost in Chicago. And not only in Chicago but the surrounding areas. The hundreds of black and brown lives," Walker said. "And so my question to them would be, how much is my black and brown life to you? How much is my black and brown sister and brother to you? Because to me, we deserve 100 percent of that tax, but we're only asking for 25 percent.
"We want our 25 percent, we want the records expunged, we want this money to go toward mental health services, gun violence, re-entry -- all of that belongs to us," Walker said.
Pritzker rolled out the recreational cannabis proposal earlier this month at the Black United Fund of Illinois on Chicago's South Side, touting that Illinois would have the "most equity-centric law in the nation."
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Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton told the crowd at Thursday's rally in Springfield the "best kind of policy-making is done when we hear directly from the people from our communities."
"There's another part of justice, and that is making sure that communities that have been harmed through decades of disinvestment also know that in order to restore our communities, we must also invest in our communities," Stratton said. "And this means we have to make sure that as investments are made and we look at budgetary considerations, communities are not left out."
Eddie Bocanegra, senior director for Readi Chicago, a Heartland Alliance gun violence response program, called it "natural" that the revenue benefits communities that have been disproportionately affected by lower-level drug convictions.
"The idea of leveraging resources from the marijuana bill is critical. We have to address root causes," Bocanegra said.
That also means giving people from those communities access to jobs in what would be a new sector.
"Whether it's growing, selling or delivering -- all of the opportunities that come from it," Bocanegra said.