Illinois Is Giving Out Grants From Marijuana Tax Revenue. Where’s The Money Going?
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Illinois generated more than $175 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales in 2020, and a chunk of that money will go to communities hit hardest by gun violence and disproportionate prosecution for low-level pot crimes.
The state announced $31.5 million in a first wave of grants for 80 nonprofit organizations and government bodies earlier this year as part of the Restore, Reinvest and Renew, or R3, Program. The program was built into Illinois’ recreational marijuana law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019.
Legislators wanted to direct some of the tax revenue to communities unfairly impacted by the “war on drugs,” the global crackdown on illegal drug use whose name was popularized by President Richard Nixon in 1971.
A 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black Illinoisans were seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Poor neighborhoods, regardless of race, were also unfairly impacted by enforcement of drug laws, Illinois’ legislators asserted.
Illinois used data on gun violence, child poverty, unemployment and prison incarceration to determine which communities would be eligible for the R3 grants. Nearly 400 groups applied.
In southern Illinois, the following cities, agencies and organizations received grants:
- City of Harrisburg: $25,548
- City of Madison Police Department: $92,291
- Family Counseling Center (Golconda): $253,906
- Land of Lincoln Legal Aid (East St. Louis): $57,486
- Lutheran Social Services (Marion): $228,702
- Public Interest Law Initiative (Alexander, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Pulaski, Saline, White and Williamson Counties): $29,805
- United Way Greater St. Louis: $829,240
A full list of grant recipients is available at r3.illinois.gov.
In Madison, the small metro-east city of roughly 3,300 nestled between interstates and industrial zones, the police chief said his department plans to work with a youth center to interrupt behavior that could eventually lead young people to the criminal justice system.
“The Madison Police believe that policing in today’s communities requires a multi-dimensional approach,” Chief Nicholas Gailius wrote in an email. “We believe that long term crime prevention strategies require us to work with our community to identify root causes and to work through partnerships for more effective outcomes.”
The Joe W. Roberts Youth Club serves a city where 28% of residents live in poverty, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The club’s founder and namesake started the group in the late 1980s when he realized that there was an increasing need for youth recreation and other activities in Madison and nearby Venice and Lovejoy.
The club has been providing tutoring and mentoring, sports, dance classes, health fairs, cooking classes and other programs to underserved children between ages 5 and 18.
“Our primary goal is to reduce risky behavioral patters which lead to incarceration and criminal violence that goes on in the neighborhoods,” said executive director DeWanda Crochrell.
Crochrell says the club plans to use their $92,291 grant to work with police on an assessment of needs in the community. Conditions have changed since the club was founded in 1988, and the grant will allow the club and the department to survey and interview young people, families, business leaders and educators about the issues they see.
Youth violence is a growing problem they hope to address, Crochrell said. Gang members tell club leaders they feel victimized and are more likely to carry weapons, the club and police department said in their grant application.
“This tells us that in order to create a plan to address the impact of violence on individuals as a whole, we need to look at some of the underlying causes of these violent behaviors.”
The assessment could also reveal the level of willingness in the community to engage with police. Black residents account for roughly 43% of the population in Madison, and 92% in nearby Venice. Crochrell said she hopes the program will assist local law enforcement in building relationships to prevent the all-too-frequent deadly encounters between Black people and police.
“The police department isn’t the problem. The problem is lack of engagement between the police department as a legal authority and the citizens of the community,” Crochrell said. “We don’t see enough of that. I think that’s going to be a positive part of this. The assessment will reveal the willingness of the community to engage.
The Madison Police Department and the Joe W. Roberts Youth Club have a year to complete the assessment. Then they can apply for another R3 grant to develop programming to address those needs.
View the Madison grant application and others at https://bit.ly/3wVzlsK.
Kelsey Landis is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.