Illinois Cannabis Reform Makes a Major Leap Towards Social Equity

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One of the stickiest issues in cannabis reform is the question of reparations. There’s wide agreement that for decades, communities of color were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, the Nixon-era program now widely regarded as a costly failure. But the question of how to redress those wrongs in a concerted and equitable way has proved difficult for many states to manage. Now, amidst the backdrop of worldwide protests for racial reform, a new Illinois program is raising hopes for lasting change.

Earlier this month, the state opened the application process for its Restore, Reinvest and Renew (R3) program. A $31.5 million grant pool, it’s made possible by a condition of Illinois’ cannabis law which stipulates that 25% of all cannabis-derived revenues go towards social justice programs like R3.

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The program targets those geographic zones hit hardest by police and criminal justice system overreach. The state has even provided an interactive map to help potential grantees determine their eligibility. Areas 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.

Unlike some programs designed to stimulate the cannabis economy by kickstarting involvement by citizens of color, R3 is focused squarely on repairing, in the state’s own words, “…the severe and multilayered harm caused by the war on drugs.” The program provides grants ranging from $25,000 to over $850,000, available to organizations working in the following categories:

  • Civil legal aid
  • Economic development
  • Reentry from the criminal justice system
  • Violence prevention
  • Youth development

One of the most visible proponents of R3 is Illinois’ Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton. In a statement released last month, she declared:

“The R3 program is a critical step towards repairing the harms caused by the failed war on drugs and decades of economic disinvestment. Equity is one of the administration’s core values, and we are ensuring that state funding reaches organizations doing critical work in neighborhoods most impacted by the war on drugs.”

Notably, Lt. Governor Stratton has delivered more than just talk. On January 1, 2020—Illinois’ first day of legal cannabis sales—she was photographed proudly purchasing a package of clementine-flavored gummies.

Excitement about the R3 program is riding high, so to speak. Illinois’ legalization framework was already held up as a model of sensible cannabis reform. And though it’s already included steps such as pardoning thousands of low-level cannabis offenders, advocates hope that R3 will become a model for redressing some of the grievous harms of the past. Given that as the nation is currently enduring a sustained groundswell of public protest against police brutality and overreach against people of color, this important program comes just in the nick of time.

The application window closes Monday, July 20, 2020. To ease the application process and increase access to funding, the state is offering technical assistance to organizations via online workshops.