Amherst board OKs placing 2022 pot revenues towards reparations however balks at everlasting allocation

Published: 6/14/2022 8:59:21 PM

Modified: 6/14/2022 8:57:05 PM

AMHERST — Concerns about the economy, and possible budget cuts that may need to be enacted, are prompting Amherst’s elected officials to hold off on permanently dedicating revenues from cannabis tax receipts to a reparations initiative for residents of African heritage.

Despite appeals from residents last month asking for town officials to implement a permanent earmark of tax collections from recreational marijuana sales to the reparations fund, the Finance Committee voted 4-1 last week to commit to a process in which certified free cash, matching cannabis revenues collected in fiscal year 2022, would be transferred into a stabilization fund.

If Town Council follows through on this recommendation, it would be taking similar action as in this year’s budget, when more than $200,000 in free cash, matching the amount in cannabis taxes, was placed into a reparations account.

Council President Lynn Griesemer, who serves on the Finance Committee, said she is not supportive of earmarks.

“I want some way by which we don’t bind a future town administration and a future Town Council with earmarked funds that don’t allow us the flexibility we need in hard times,” Griesemer said.

Griesemer said she wants to see flexibility in budgeting, and if the choice is between the reparations fund and having to cut jobs from the town budget, then having a trigger to get out from an earmark makes sense.

For members of the African Heritage Reparation Assembly, though, this action was a frustrating decision after asking that local excise tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales be permanently dedicated to the town’s reparations effort, beginning in fiscal year 2024.

“I feel like I’ve been jerked along,” said member Amilcar Shabazz at a meeting on Friday.

Shabazz said he sees basic opposition to any earmarking by Griesmeer, but that the Finance Committee and full Town Council should have a discussion and then a vote on the topic. He said it feels that without that, the reparation assembly is spinning its wheels and there is a “disrespect of my time.”

Shabazz said he would like to get an up or down vote on the reparative justice process and how a fund is being built so disbursements can start to be made, like they are happening in Evanston, Illinois.

The pool of money, which Shabazz calls a “very modest, drop in the bucket” is a representation of the values of the town. “That we are dedicating them for restorative justice, reparative justice measures that help the most harmed members of our community,” Shabazz said.

District 1 Councilor Michele Miller, who co-chairs the assembly, said she shares the concern that the Finance Committee showed a lack of regard for what the group is trying to do with reparations.

“I’m not OK with that, and I don’t think any of us are,” Miller said.

Assembly member Irv Rhodes said he understands the Town Council might be looking for funds to plug holes in fiscal year 2024 finaces, but he worries about losing the cannabis money if it’s not designated.

“I’d rather have the vote than not have the vote, and have the vote based upon the request to have cannabis money come to AHRA,” Rhodes said.

“We should force that vote as soon as possible. We need to know,” Rhodes said.

Miller said she worries that the Finance Committee may not take up the topic again until August, endangering the work that is being done for reparations.

“We need the commitment now — we need to know if we’re going to be included,” Miller said.