SPRINGFIELD – The state announced Thursday that it has awarded $31.5 million in grants to 81 community organizations around Illinois to help fund legal services for low-income residents, youth development, violence prevention and economic development in areas hardest hit by the war on drugs.
The Restore, Reinvest and Renew, or “R3” grants are funded with a portion of the state’s revenue from sales of adult-use marijuana, and they were a key element of the 2019 bill that legalized recreational marijuana in Illinois.
“We know that too many communities, disproportionately Black and brown communities throughout our state, have suffered from over incarceration and decades of disinvestment due to the failed war on drugs,” Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who chairs the R3 Program Board, said during an interview with Capitol News Illinois. “And so the R3 program was one component that was included by the members of the General Assembly, with the leadership of the Legislative Black Caucus, in particular, to make sure that we focused on restorative justice.”
The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Under that law, the state levies an excise tax of 10 percent of the purchase price of marijuana with a THC content of 35 percent or less. Marijuana with THC levels higher than that is taxed at 25 percent of the purchase price while cannabis-infused products are taxed at 10 percent.
The law also provides that 25 percent of that revenue be used to fund grants in communities that have suffered from economic disinvestment, violence, and the severe and disproportionate damage caused by the war on drugs, which are largely low-income communities of color.
Officials said the grants announced Thursday were funded with revenues from the first month of legalized sales through the present. The deadline for submitting applications for the first round of grants was in July. Applications were submitted through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which was also responsible for identifying communities that were eligible.
Many of those grants will help fund free legal services for low-income residents involved in civil cases, including debt collection. A report published in the Illinois Bar Journal found that as many as two-thirds of all civil cases filed in Illinois outside of Chicago in 2015 involved at least one litigant who did not have an attorney.
Prairie State Legal Services, which provides services in northern and parts of central Illinois, was awarded four grants totaling just over $1 million to provide civil legal aid, while Land of Lincoln Legal Services, which operates in central and southern Illinois, was awarded three grants totaling just over $230,000.
Several of the grants also went to agencies that provide re-entry services for state prison inmates being released back into the community. Among those was a $228,702 grant to Lutheran Social Services in Marion.
The largest single grant announced Thursday, $2.5 million, was awarded to the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative to provide a combination of youth development, economic development and violence prevention services on Chicago’s mid-south side.
A number of cities also received grants for similar programs, including the cities of Harrisburg, Kankakee, Madison, Rockford and Springfield.
“What I’m really proud of is not just the fact that these funds are getting to communities, but I’m proud of the way that it’s getting to communities, and that’s centered on equity,” Stratton said. “We made sure that we had town halls and meetings throughout the communities that were attended by hundreds of organizations and hundreds of people to make sure that we were doing outreach, especially for some of the smaller organizations that that might not often have had an opportunity to get these grant funds.”
Stratton said the R3 board hasn’t set a timeline for distributing the second round of grants.
“We are very excited to get this first round of grants off the ground,” she said.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.