[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text dp_text_size=”size-4″]Marijuana legalization remains a taboo subject among Georgia lawmakers, but it’s tough to ignore the financial opportunities of being able to tax what’s historically been a clandestine industry.

Some states have used tax revenue from legal weed sales to improve public infrastructure; others have directed the new money spigot at building schools and supporting education initiatives or funding substance-abuse treatment programs. 

So, could legitimizing and regulating the marijuana industry also help bridge the racial and economic gaps in the housing realm? Officials in Evan, IL., a small city outside of Chicago, are testing that theory with what’s being hailed as the nation’s first-ever locally funded housing reparations plan. 

On Wednesday, during the quarterly Atlanta Regional Housing Forum, an alderman — like a city councilmember — from Evanston discussed her town’s novel program that helps Black residents become homeowners, pay their mortgages and make home improvements.

In short, a 3-percent tax on recreational marijuana sales funnels money into a fund that, in theory, will swell up to $10 million, according to Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, the brains behind the plan.

A native Illinoisan and a Black woman, Simmons said she realized at a young age that “we in our city were not enjoying the same lived experience as our white friends and neighbors.”

“I saw that the divide was racial, and the neighborhood I lived in had limited access to amenities,” Simmons said, noting the discrepancy was due to “intentional disinvestment” that concentrated poverty in certain areas and widened economic and racial gaps.

The problems Simmons’ city has faced mirror those that Atlanta has grappled with for decades, raising a question about whether such a reparations program could help our city’s Black residents fight its daunting housing affordability crisis. 

Like in Atlanta, Evanston officials have championed inclusionary zoning policies and are working to expand accessory dwelling unit programs. However, while those initiatives are lauded by experts as challengers of housing inequity, they often ignore racial disparities, Simmons said Tuesday.

“These initiatives and the programs they’re funding are continuing to sustain our discrimination,” she said, later adding, “We needed to do something radically different, as radical as redlining and Jim Crow-ing, and as radical as the restrictive and exclusive zoning policy in our city, and that was reparations.”

Indeed, Atlanta is working to reform its dated zoning code to encourage denser development — ideally, boosting the housing supply and fostering affordability — but a more extreme approach might be warranted to reduce income inequality and spur income mobility among Black residents.

But why is marijuana so crucial to this equation? It’s not just because governments are just discovering the cash cow. 

“That’s significant because 71 percent of our marijuana arrests were in the Black community, and we’re 16 percent of the community,” Simmons said. “So it was very appropriate that those funds be targeted to [help] the Black community after years of damage and oppression and the discrimination that we’ll continue to build on now because we have more Black residents with criminal backgrounds.”

Like Evanston, Atlanta, as well as Georgia at large, has historically disproportionately jailed Black people for petty weed charges. Simmons’ program could turn that seemingly predatory practice on its head. 

Still, though, recreational cannabis legalization doesn’t exactly seem to be right around the corner, and Simmons’ program is still in its infancy. Asked by an audience member how she’ll know if it’s a success, she said, “You measure by the financial wealth and the repair of the Black community.” Think increased Black homeownership, increased household incomes and a measurable reduction in the city’s racial divide.

Do you think Atlanta could benefit from such an initiative? Sound off in the comments.

(Header image, via Add Weed on Unsplash: A person weighs marijuana on a scale.)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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4 Comments

  1. Legalizing & taxing weed could generate dollars to subsidize housing. But don’t ignore other revenue opportunities that are closer to hand.
    The City has finally put on its legislative wishlist taking away Development Authority of Fulton County’s power to give unneeded tax breaks to Atlanta development projects. Those will be costing us $40M / year by 2023, because mayors and council failed for years to prioritize this. It will take a bigger push to overcome the developer lobby than placing it as Ask #8, but maybe that is a start.
    Systematic underassessment of hotel and office towers and development sites is costing Atlanta hundreds of millions a year. Rep Dreyer tried to get that addressed in 2020 but Republicans of course shut that down. If the City got behind it and pressured the county, we could see progress.
    Exorbitant subsidies of the film business short the state by close to a billion a year.

    Voters need to demand that elected officials make decisions for the public good and stop currying favor with wealthy special interests. Between the subsidies to Arthur Blank’s stadium, the Hawks arena & the Gulch billionaires, the elite’s priorities in the 2010s sent about $3 Billion of public money in the wrong direction.

    The Atlanta Way has failed to create a more equitable city in the past 50 years. I hope Atlanta Civic Circle will play a constructive role in changing that, with writers applying critical thinking – and seeking out independent counterpoints – to Atlanta Way business-as-usual boosterism, whenever it comes your way. (The weed tax is not one of those, it does let off all the other tax distortions that are probably lower-hanging fruit.)

  2. I’m newer to Georgia, and I’d be curious why cannabis legalization isn’t further along here? Other, more conservative states, are more liberal on this issue than GA. Is it just because there hasn’t been advocacy on it?

    I find the business of cannabis incredibly interesting, and GA has the potential to be a leader on the therapeutic/medicinal side, and on the criminal justice reform side if we were to decriminalize, or even legalize it.

    **Also, if anyone who works on UX on this site is reading, can you make the font for comment drafts darker? This light grey is difficult to read.

    1. Great comments Kate. I will let our team know the font is not dark enough! Great feedback. We are always looking to improve.
      Britton

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