With revenue from the tax on cannabis sales falling short of expectations, an Evanston alderman is seeking to shift $5 million in general fund revenues to the city’s reparations program.

Funding for the reparations program was approved by the City Council at a level of $1 million a year for 10 years — with the expectation that the revenue would be generated by the new tax on legal cannabis sales.

Given the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on the city’s Black community, that was seen as a funding source that neatly aligned with the reparations program’s goals, and as a new source of tax revenue, it wouldn’t require taking money away from existing programs and would be a tax that would only impact persons who chose to buy cannabis on the legal market.

But with tax revenue from the city’s only cannabis dispensary falling far short of the $1 million annual level so far — Ald. Devon Reid (8th) has submitted to the City Council’s Referrals Committee a proposal to shift $5 million from the general fund balance to the reparations fund.

The initial payments from the reparations program have been targeted to providing home improvements for elderly Black residents and Reid argues that given the age of the beneficiaries, it’s urgent to get funds to them quickly.

The Referrals Committee on Thursday sent the proposal to the Finance and Budget Committee with direction to consider the proposal before the end of September.

The City Council traditionally starts considering its budget for the next fiscal year early in October.

Growth in cannabis tax revenue for Evanston and other Illinois communities has been slowed by the fact that the state’s efforts to issue nearly additional 185 new dispensary licenses have been held up for more than a year by court challenges to the selection process.

A Cook County judge this week lifted a stay on the license awards. That could mean more cannabis tax revenue for Evanston, but its expected to take six months to a year for any new dispensaries to actually open, and there’s no guarantee any operators will choose to locate in Evanston.

Meanwhile, the city’s only current dispensary is planning to expand its operation in the city’s Maple Avenue parking garage.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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