‘Full circle:’ Legal marijuana revenue going back to communities hurt by war on drugs

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A judge's gavel next to a pile of dried cannabis buds.

A year after recreational marijuana was legalized in Illinois, revenue from sales is going back into communities that have been plagued by crime and the war on drugs. 

On Jan. 22, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority announced $31.5 million in grants to 80 community organizations and municipalities as part of the Restore, Reinvest and Renew Program, or R3 Program. It was a part of the 2019 law legalizing recreational marijuana.

Five Springfield organizations are receiving $1.4 million in grants to be invested in areas of the city that have been hit by crime and need economic development.

The city of Springfield got $80,000 for economic development; the East Springfield Community Center Commission $808,992 for violence prevention, re-entry to the community for ex-felons and youth development; Illinois Legal Aid Springfield $32,874 for civil legal aid; Land of Lincoln Legal Aid $114,918 for civil legal aid; and the Springfield Urban League $419,702 for youth and economic development.

"Grantees will be required to provide data and other information to the R3 Board to ensure that grant funds are used equitably and effectively," said Christian Perry of the ICJIA. 

More: Pritzker issues over 9,000 cannabis pardons; State Police clear eligible arrest records

Dameon Johnson from the East Springfield Community Center Commission said the funds will help him achieve his nonprofit’s goals of being a strong resource in the community. Johnson’s focus is on making formerly incarcerated individuals productive and non-violent members of society by teaching them skills to safely get back on their feet.

“We wanted to give some variety of programming for these individuals so first of all, they will have a choice in this, and second of all, if they don’t qualify for some sort of avenue, they have another one to pursue,” Johnson said.

His programs include specialized job training at Lincoln Land Community College; help finding safe and affordable housing for those leaving prison; education for those needing more qualifications such as a high school diploma; or construction and trade skills.

“We want to do our duty to help them be marketable to employers,” Johnson said.

Related:Initiative launched to help Illinoisans expunge marijuana arrests, conviction

At the Springfield Urban League, education is also a major focus. Through its Community Empowerment Program, 100 people will get assistance in job and life readiness skills.

The city of Springfield plans to use its $80,000 to focus on economic development. City Grant Coordinator Donna Devlantis said this will focus on the city’s east side, especially Ward 2, which is a part of specific economic development zones created by the R3 Program.

Devlantis said the city will work with consultants to explore entrepreneurial opportunities and remove barriers to economic development. She said the city is committed to using data to drive decisions rather than traditional models for economic development in impoverished areas.

The funds for the grants come from a successful first year of legal marijuana sales that topped $1 billion in 2020. Sales are taxed at various rates, with most state taxes on products at 10% or 25%. Twenty-five percent of all revenue is supposed to go toward grant programs like R3 that provide funds to communities hit hard by the war on drugs.

"By awarding this first round of R3 grants, we are taking another important step toward undoing the harms of the past,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement of the relationship between marijuana sales and the war on drugs.

“It’s a sign to us that this money is coming full circle,” Johnson said. “We have this legal industry now in Illinois; I felt that it was a great way to right to so many wrongs that had been done, especially to these individuals that are incarcerated.”

Also: Here’s why Springfield is collecting, but not spending pot sales tax revenue

Johnson said marijuana has been a “tipoff” to law enforcement that often leads to more criminal charges for individuals.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because we felt it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but at least it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Johnson said he is hopeful his program will be popular and helpful to people leaving prison who want to get their lives on the right track.

“The number one thing we’re looking for is the will and desire to do better when they enter the community,” Johnson said of the 30 people who will be accepted into his programs.

He said one barrier people face when leaving prison is the lack of places to go with resources. Johnson is hopeful Springfield can be a place for help with his new grant.

“We want to help make Springfield attractive for them and offer our support as a community to them as they re-enter society.”

Eighty grants were given to various organizations in the R3 Program’s first round. More will be given over time as the state remains committed to using funds from legal marijuana to invest in people and communities hurt by criminalized cannabis. 

via The State Journal-Register

January 30, 2021 at 07:30PM

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