PEORIA — Once an illegal drug, cannabis is being channeled to help in a downtrodden area of town.
Taxation of legal cannabis sales in Illinois are providing Peoria Public Schools with $858,669 to help rebuild Peoria's south end.
"We are here in one of the most distressed communities in the state and in the nation, 61605, at Trewyn School," said PPS Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat during a news conference at the school Tuesday morning. "And this community ... is impacted by the horrors of violence, bolstered by the concentration of disinvestment, identified by rates of gun injuries, child poverty, unemployment and incarceration rates, and the list goes on and on and on. Life's inequities, hardship and suffering are so vast and wide for many, many of our students and families, and we see it every day."
The legislation that legalized the sale of cannabis last spring contained a plan to allocate 25% of cannabis revenue to communities impacted by the destructive policing and legislative policies surrounding cannabis when it was illegal. The plan is named R3, an abbreviation of the words "restore, reinvest, and renew."
"R3 is so important to me because I felt that it was critical that if we were going to be legalizing a product that has been used for the last 80 years to penalize largely Black and brown people, it was incredibly important that we took some of the resources of the sale of this product and begin to reinvest it in repairing some of those same communities that had been torn down by the war on drugs," said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a key member of the effort to create R3.
PPS plans to use the money to create programs to address a myriad of issues that lead to poverty. One program provides legal aid for students involved in the criminal justice system, another helps incarcerated people successfully re-enter society. Other programs address mental health and substance abuse treatment, career coaching for students and reproductive health education. Legal help to expunge old felony convictions is another issue that will be funded through the grant.
"Expungement is incredibly important to me," Gordon-Booth said. "It's important to give people the possibility of being able to move their lives forward, and not being calcified in poverty."
Legislators knew that the tax revenues from cannabis sales would bring in a lot of money in the first year, but they were surprised by how much, said Gordon-Booth.
"We expected there would be about $20 (million) to $22 million to distribute statewide, but actually that dollar amount was about $31 million," she said. "Going into this next funding year, there could be upwards of $50 (million) to $65 million dollars of funding for R3 moving forward."