Cannabis taxes fund $31.4 million in state grants to groups helping poor communities

Cannabis taxes fund $31.4 million in state grants to groups helping poor communities

The Cannabis Regulation and Trust Act legalized adult-use cannabis in Illinois as of Jan. 1, 2020. It also required 25% of revenues from cannabis taxes to fund grants helping communities suffering from economic disinvestment, violence, and the multilayered harm caused by disparate enforcement of the war on drugs. | Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

The grants, which go to 81 community organizations, result from the law legalizing adult-use marijuana in Illinois. It requires 25% of pot tax revenues help communities suffering from economic disinvestment, violence, and the multilayered harm of disparate weed enforcement.

In a move acknowledging past harm wreaked on communities of color by decades of disparate weed enforcement in America’s war on drugs, Illinois on Thursday awarded $31.4 million in cannabis tax revenue grants to support rebuilding those communities.

Under the Cannabis Regulation and Trust Act that made adult-use cannabis legal in Illinois starting on Jan. 1, 2020, 25% of tax revenues are to go toward grants impacting communities suffering from economic disinvestment, violence, and the multilayered harm of disparate enforcement.

Those revenues funded the Restore, Reinvest and Renew (R3) Program. Thursday’s grants were the first ever under that program. They will go to 81 groups, ranging from community and faith-based organizations to businesses and local government in designated eligible R3 zones. Recipients were selected by the R3 board, chaired by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton; members were recruited from communities statewide.

These first-round awards come amidst complaints the state had dragged its feet on doling out some $62 million in funds amassed through the R3 measure.

Stratton said this historic move drew a tsunami of submissions, so her board had to take the time to get this right.

It began with outreach and technical assistance webinars to groups last February and March. The board held its first meeting and released the notice of funding opportunity in May. In June, it held community meetings in advance of the July application deadline. Then, in August, it started to review the unexpected torrent of applications from across the state.

Board members include criminal justice practitioners and community stakeholders, as well as people who had faced marijuana charges before legalization. All members received training to recognize implicit bias, along with training on application review. The Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative also helped ensure every decision throughout the selection process was made within the framework of equity and restorative justice.

“We made sure that we had town halls and meetings throughout communities to spread the word that you are welcome. And they were attended by hundreds of organizations and people. We wanted to reach out to places that might not have often had an opportunity like this or thought that they were not valued,” Stratton told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We valued them and reached out. We also included people in this process who had lived experience, who were justice-involved, to talk about what they thought was needed. What I’m proud of most, is not just that the funds are getting to communities, but the way they are getting to the communities — centered on equity,” she said.

“That was the driving point to get us here. And it is exciting.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens to Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton at the Apostolic Faith Church during the Census Gospel Sunday Concert at 3823 S. Indiana Ave in Bronzeville Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton chairs the board of the Restore, Reinvest and Renew Program, an equity element of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) that legalized adult-use cannabis on Jan. 1, 2020. Her board of community members recruited statewide reviewed over 400 applications before choosing 81 groups to receive $31.5 million, as announced Tuesday.

All grantees offer evidence-based, promising, or innovative practices within the R3 priority areas of civil legal aid, economic development, community re-entry from the criminal justice system, violence prevention, and youth development. The funds include $28.3 million to support service delivery and $3.1 million for assessment and planning initiatives.

Communities deemed eligible for funding were identified using community-level data on gun injury, child poverty, unemployment, and state prison commitments and returns, combined with disproportionately impacted areas previously identified by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Chicago grantees include groups like Communities United, which will collaborate with the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) to offer legal assistance to the poor, focused on supporting housing stability of low-income families — considered a key social determinant of health, and an area hugely impacted by the pandemic, in targeted R3 zones.

That group will use the funding to reach out to at least 10,000 individuals/families in the proposed R3 zones, offering free legal-aid services to help tenants avoid eviction and court representation to those facing eviction, as well as intensive short-term case management services to address underlying issues that lead to eviction.

The Chicago Torture Justice Center will use the grant funds to support returning citizens, particularly in the hugely impacted South Side community of Englewood. The first and only center dedicated to survivors of police torture in the country, it will offer trauma-informed resources and holistic healing services to individuals who were tortured by police — as in the John Burge case — and the previously incarcerated returning to their communities.

The Chicago Urban League and the Safer Foundation will team up to assist returning citizens, and promote economic development in 10 South Side communities, including Douglas, Englewood, Fuller Park, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Oakland, South Shore, Woodlawn, Washington Park and West Englewood.

The program will help returning citizens enter the technology sector via training through the League’s Workforce Development Center, and employment placement assistance.

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