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Hard-Hit By Drug War, Parts Of B-N Will Get Advantage With Cannabis Legalization

Map of BN with blue in it
Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
The blue represents parts of Bloomington-Normal considered "Disproportionately Impacted Areas" by the state.

State officials said Monday that Bloomington’s west side and neighborhoods around Illinois State University were among the hardest-hit by the war on drugs – and those living there should get a leg up when cannabis becomes legal next year.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity released a map Monday showing 683 Census tracts with “high rates of arrest, conviction, and incarceration related to cannabis,” plus higher rates of poverty and unemployment.

In McLean County, those “disproportionately impacted areas” include most of west and south Bloomington, plus ISU and surrounding areas in Normal. Bloomington-Normal’s east side is almost entirely excluded, as is a “donut hole” where Illinois Wesleyan University is located.

“As Illinois continues its path toward putting equity at the forefront of the state’s new adult-use cannabis expansion, it’s important to create opportunities in communities that have been hardest hit by the war on marijuana,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement.

Starting in December, those looking to open a new cannabis dispensary can apply for a license. The state will issue up to 75 licenses by May 2020.

The state will score applicants on a scale of 1 to 200, with 25 points specifically designated for so-called “social equity applicants.” They can get bonus points if their store will be owned mostly by someone living in a disproportionately impacted area, or if most of their employees live in such an area. (Bonus points will also be available for majority owners who were previously arrested for or convicted of any offense that is now eligible for expungement under the new cannabis law.)

“Not only will social equity applicants receive points on their applications, but many applicants will also get grants, technical assistance, low-interest loans and fee reductions and waivers,” Pritzker said Monday. “Taken together, these efforts will do more than any other state in the nation has done to focus on equity.”

There are currently 55 medical marijuana dispensaries in Illinois, including one in north Normal (The Green Solution). That business can apply to sell recreational marijuana too, as well as open a second location. Those are separate from the 75 new licenses that will be awarded by May 2020, with up to 110 more by 2021.

The 683 Census tracts announced Monday are home to over 2 million Illinoisans.

“Too many communities in Illinois have been torn apart due to failed drug policies. By providing resources to justice-impacted individuals and members of their communities, we can ensure that the legalization of cannabis benefits all Illinoisans, regardless of income or background,” Erin Guthrie, acting director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said in a statement.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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