Portions of Effingham and Fayette counties have been “disproportionately impacted” by past marijuana enforcement, state officials say. Illinois wants to make it easier for people in those areas to start recreational marijuana businesses, now that it will be legal in January.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has implemented a cannabis “social equity program” in those areas and similar locations across the state. It gives applicants who want to grow or sell marijuana more points when their applications are scored. Low-interest loans from the state could be available.
A map released by the state this week depicts 683 census tracks in which 2 million people live. Pritzker’s administration asserts that these areas have had higher-than-typical rates of poverty – and arrests, convictions and incarceration for marijuana offenses.
Charity Greene, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said her department identified the areas through a set of criteria from which counties must meet at least one of the following factors:
- A poverty rate of at least 20 percent, according to the latest federal census.
- Seventy-five percent or more of the children in the area participate in the free lunch program.
- Twenty percent of households in the area receive SNAP assistance.
- The average unemployment rate is more than 120 percent of the national unemployment rate.
Greene said impacted areas must have high rates of arrest related to cannabis – over 30 arrests per 10,000 residents. And high conviction and incarceration rates related to cannabis – over one per 10,000 residents. The statistics covered a 10-year period.
“Effingham County census is an underserved area because it has a 21.3 percent poverty rate and an unemployment rate exceeding 1.2 times the national average,” Greene said. “It also had more than 30 cannabis-related arrests per 10,000 residents.”
Effingham Mayor Mike Schutzbach noted the portion of the map covering Effingham County is derived from the city’s Opportunity Zone Map; both maps show the same outlines and areas. Schutzbach said the Opportunity Zone Map was created for the city by the United States Treasury Department to spur economic d evelopment in the community. It’s intent was not to assist in the “war on drugs initiative,” Schutzbach said.
A new round of applications are being accepted for recreational cannabis cultivators, dispensaries and more. Applications for new dispensary organizations will be accepted by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation starting Dec. 10, and 75 adult-use dispensing licenses will be awarded by May 1, 2020.
Applicants with majority ownership of a proposed enterprise in their application who lived in these impacted areas for five of the past 10 years or have been arrested for certain marijuana offenses will receive the additional points.
The equity provision, which falls under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, also applies to majority owner applicants who have a minimum of 10 employees, and the employees reside in an impacted area and have been arrested for, convicted of or was a juvenile offender for any offense that qualifies for expungement under the act or is a member of an impacted family.
Social equity applicants might be eligible for technical assistance and support on everything from putting together a business plan to applying for a license; additional points on their applications for a license to operate a cannabis business; or an opportunity to apply for a low-interest loan from the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity.
Schutzbach applauds the response of local police and prosecutors to drugs in the community.
“The city of Effingham has worked very hard to keep our community safe from criminal activity for those who visit or live in our city. Enforcement of drug law is one aspect of the police department’s responsibility to our citizens,” Schutzbach said. “The department has always taken a proactive stand towards drug crimes as drug crimes seem to lead to added complications for those impacted.”
Not all of Effingham and Fayette counties fall under the identified impacted area. The state’s map of impacted areas in Effingham County include the city of Effingham as far west as South Banker Street, with some portions reaching North Willow Street and N. 1425th Street; as far south as E. 100th Avenue, with portions reaching some of N. 1000th Road.; as far east as N. 1000th Road; and as far north as the interchange between Routes 32 and 33.
Effingham Police Chief Jason McFarland declined comment this week on cannabis-related issues until the Effingham City Council has discussed its regulation and sale.
In a previous interview with the Effingham Daily News, prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis, McFarland expressed concern about home grow operations within the city.
“I’ve talked to officers in other states like Colorado where this has been legalized, and they said some of the issues they’ve had are the consequences where people will rent a house and literally turn it into a grow operation, and they will ruin that house,” McFarland said at the time.
The current law allows landlords to prohibit marijuana use on their property.
A May press release from the Illinois Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Associations stated home-based growers and businesses make law enforcement activity more difficult by “undermining the system of legal, commercial cannabis.”
Much of the impacted area in Fayette County begins as far east as the county line between Fayette and Effingham counties and as far north as the Fayette and Shelby County line. The area reaches south to Interstate 70, covering all of St. Elmo, with small portions reaching down to E. 1800 Avenue, and as far east as N. 1800 Street.
A medical marijuana dispensary, The Clinic Effingham, recently obtained early approval for a state license to dispense adult-use cannabis at its facility, starting in January. The “same-site” state license allows existing cannabis dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana at their current locations — so long as they comply with local zoning regulations and laws, which the city of Effingham has not set yet.
The Clinic Effingham so far is the only site in Effingham County that has applied for a license to sell recreational cannabis.