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‘Look at How Much Money This City Has Taken Away’: Illinois Activists Demand Reparations for Ex-Cons Convicted of Marijuana Charges

To date, 18 states in America, including the District of Columbia, have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. Another 13 and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized its usage, subsequently boosting the industry’s revenues. Now an organization in Illinois wants officials to reconsider reparations for ex-convicts who were jailed because of the now-legal substance. 

According to CBS 2, Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, an activist group founded by Tyrone Muhammad, is planning to stage a weeklong sit-in outside a dispenser, starting Monday, July 19. The group believes ex-convicts should be compensated for their time spent behind bars for the same substance from which businesses in the city now have made millions of dollars.

Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC.COM)

“It’s wrong for them to benefit off the same product that they incarcerated us with,” Muhammad told the outlet. Along with another member of the organization, Greg Sherman, Muhammad is seeking “to highlight the inequities and injustice of the cannabis industry.”

In a 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, Marijuana arrests make up 43 percent of all drug arrests in the U.S., making it account for more arrests than any other drug — the majority of which are for possession.

Furthermore, since 2010 racial disparities reportedly worsened in 31 states, including, Montana, Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia and Iowa. Black people were said to be seven times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than their white counterparts. In addition, Illinois has the third-highest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests, behind Montana and Kentucky, respectively. The state decriminalized the substance in 2016 and legalized it three years later. 

In Macon County, white people make up 76.3 percent of the population, while Black people are 14.7 percent. However, black people were 11.1 times more likely to get arrested than whites, according to the 2018 data chart. 

According to Parra, sales in Illinois rose to $115 million last month and $116 million the month before. The two activists say the numbers come as a slap in the face, especially for Muhammad, who revealed he’s been arrested “a number of times” as a youth over marijuana. Sherman says he missed the birth of his daughter “for a cannabis charge.” But, he added, “It was less than 4 ounces, and this was in ’98.”

Muhammad says, “Although weed is legal now, ex-cons still cannot work in the cannabis industry or dispensary; can’t apple for a license, although we paid our debt to society.”

In a statement obtained by the outlet, The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said, “There are no automatic barriers to people with convictions from owning or working in the cannabis industry in Illinois. Licensure may be denied under certain grounds detailed in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.”

Earlier this year, ABC 7 Chicago reported that nearly 500,000 marijuana arrest records were expunged in Illinois, while another estimated 9,000 low-level convictions were pardoned. However, the two men want more. 

“Look at how much money this city has taken away from Black and brown families for, like he said, small amounts of marijuana,” Sherman said. “It’s an injustice we must stand [against] right now.”

Muhammad said reparations for those convicted of marijuana charges should line up with the length of punishment faced by someone who was incarcerated. “Expungement alone doesn’t deal with 20, 30, 50 years of incarceration and destruction to our communities by taking black men off the streets,” he said. “Ex-cons who were taken away for marijuana need to see our fair share of profit after all we and our families have been through.”

“The majority of people I know in my circles have historically been incarcerated, harassed, locked out of jobs, or prevented from having jobs because of marijuana,” added Sherman.

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