Illinois officials announced on Thursday that the state is distributing $31.5 million in grants funded by marijuana tax revenue to communities that have been...

Illinois officials announced on Thursday that the state is distributing $31.5 million in grants funded by marijuana tax revenue to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

The funds are part of the state’s Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) program, which was established under Illinois’s adult-use cannabis legalization law. It requires 25 percent of marijuana tax dollars to be put in that fund and used to provide disadvantaged people with services such as legal aid, youth development, community reentry and financial support.

For this round, 80 organizations that offer such services for eligible communities were chosen by the R3 board. Grant recipients include local governments, faith-based organizations and businesses.

According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA), the state received 398 completed applications for the grants.

Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton (D), who chairs the board and has repeatedly discussed the need to couple legalization with social equity, told The Chicago Sun-Times that there was an outpouring of interest in the funding opportunity, and so the state had to be diligent when reviewing applications, holding webinars and meetings to determine how best to allocate the grant money.

“The R3 program will tackle chronic problems that have gone unaddressed for far too long in our underserved neighborhoods,” Stratton said in a press release. “The collaboration between the Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative and ICJIA is innovative and reinvents the grant process with community inclusion and promotes a standard for equity and success that other states will hopefully take note of and emulate.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said that he’s “so proud to see this key equity goal in cannabis legalization move forward and I applaud the leaders in the General Assembly, ICJIA, and stakeholders across the state who made this moment possible.”

“By awarding this first round of R3 grants, we are taking another important step toward undoing the harms of the past, and Lt. Governor Stratton and I will continue to ensure equity is a top priority as the cannabis program moves forward,” he said.

Of the funds made available through this program, $28.3 million will go to service delivery and $3.1 million will be used for “assessment and planning initiatives.”

The process of selecting grantees involved an analysis of local data on issues like unemployment, gun violence, poverty and incarceration rates, as well as information sourced from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The goal of the grant program is to empower groups to use their resources and expertise to repair the harms of cannabis criminalization and lift up communities that are most in need.

Communities United is receiving R3 funds to provide legal aid for low-income people, particularly as it concerns housing rights, for example, according to the Sun-Times. The Chicago Urban League and the Safer Foundation said they will use their grants to promote economic development in select, disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Chicago Torture Justice Center will use its resources to aid in community reentry for formerly incarcerated people and those who’ve experienced police violence.

Grant distributions vary from about $20,000 to nearly $2 million. The NAACP Westside Chicago Branch is getting more than $1.8 million, for example, and the University of Illinois will receive $318,000. The government of Illinois’s capital city, Springfield, secured an $80,000 grant, while the city of Rockford got $520,790. Branches of the Urban league, United Way and YMCA are also receiving cannabis money.

Awarding the new grant money is not all that Illinois is doing to promote social equity and repair the harms of cannabis criminalization. For example, Pritzker announced late last month that his office had processed more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level cannabis convictions on their records.

Relatedly, a state-funded initiative was recently established to help residents with marijuana convictions get legal aid and other services to have their records expunged.

The state has had a lot of marijuana tax revenue to work with, with sales consistently growing over the last year since the retail market launched. More than $1 billion in medical and adult-use cannabis products were purchased in 2020 alone, state data shows.

The sales figures are resulting in a much-needed windfall for state programs. In October, officials announced that the state had so far collected more than $100 million in revenue from cannabis sales since the market opened.

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