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Tracking the Pot Money: Where Does it Go?

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(WEEK) -- Illinois became the 11th state to allow recreational cannabis use for adults 21 and over on January 1, 2020.

And sales are strong.

The first month saw nearly $40 million in sales of recreational marijuana.

With an effective tax rate of 20-35 percent, depending on concentration of THC, that's a lot of new tax revenue.

A lot of it will come back to places like Peoria

Regardless of your community's stance on recreational cannabis, experts say you can still expect to see tangible benefits as state tax coffers start to fill.

We know Morton said no, while Canton said yes to adult use pot shops

But everyone has access to state marijuana tax dollars.

Here's where the money will go:

  • 35% Into the state's General Fund.

That's where politics will get involved as each lawmaker can weigh in on where they want this money spent.

But the rest of the buckets are for, essentially, fixed expenses.

  • 25% will go towards Restore, Reinvest and Renew, focusing on violence prevention, re-entry and health services.
  • 20% for mental health and substance abuse care.
  • 10% for Illinois bills that have gone unpaid, also known as the "bill backlog".
  • 8% for law enforcement.
  • 2% for marijuana education and safety campaigns, as well as data analysis.
  • 35% General Fund
  • 25% Restore, Reinvest, Renew (R3)
  • 20% Substance Abuse/Mental Health
  • 10% Bill Backlog
  • 8% Law Enforcement
  • 2% Public education/safety campaign

Peoria's sheriff hopes to access at least two of those buckets, law enforcement and the substance abuse, mental health portion.

"We have 24/7 medical staff here. We need 24/7 mental health staff," Sheriff Asbell said, speaking of the Peoria County jail.

He estimates 80 percent of his inmates have some form of mental illness, including depression.

"You're not treating it. You're dealing with the acute symptom at the time. You're dealing with the situation. You're dealing with the crisis. We're keeping people alive, " Asbell said. "It's $1.3 million dollars of my budget. We have to look at this through a regional lens and try to get the resources here."

Today, Asbell can count on medical professionals in his facility to treat those conditions for about 60 hours a week.

And the medicines the inmates often need are expensive.

"Four times what we used to spend on drugs, on medications. Especially those that deal with mental illness. Those are high dollar meds that we have to pay for," Asbell said.

He believes that treating those conditions outside of jail could prevent arrests and tax taxpayers $80 per day for each inmate no longer under his watch.

He further credits that approach as part of the reason the head count there has dropped from roughly 500 inmates a decade ago to 287 on a recent, late January afternoon.

Sheriff Asbell sees recreational marijuana tax dollars as a source of funding he could use to break the cycle of arrest and re-arrest, which is a problem for 70 percent of his inmates.

But, like so many others we spoke with in local government positions, he's not ready to add those monies into the budget.

"Anything's going to help. Anything's going to help. But I think it's too soon to even judge how this money's going to be managed. Right now it's a shiny new toy. So, the revenues, I believe, are a little bit inflated," Asbell said.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) dreams of the good things marijuana money can do.

"As a people, i really believe we've lost the ability to dream," Gordon-Booth said.

She helped draft the cannabis law and will help allocate the money that flows into the R3 fund.

It will benefit groups making a difference at the community level all across the state.

"Always think community based organizations, not for profits, schools. But it's probably going to have to be a bit more than, 'I have an idea in my head and we want you to fund it'," she said. "You'll see communities like Peoria getting a significant chunk of those resources to be able to invest back in mental health, back in housing."

In fact, she dreams of an ongoing revenue stream in 3-5 yeas possibly generating $125 million a year just for her R3 initiative, centered on human capital, to assist in recovery from the war on drugs.

"We certainly will see resources going into communities as early as this year. So, those kinds of organizations. Your United Way, your Urban Leagues, your Boys & Girls club. It's definitely going to help bolster," Gordon-Booth said.

And on this point, her Republican, Peoria counterpart, Rep. Ryan Spain - who voted against recreational pot - agrees: the tax revenues will help.

"We all are adults. We participate in the legislature. You win some, you lose some. And I certainly want to make sure that we're still being responsible with these tax dollars," Spain said. "I'm glad we're doing some of those things that can, hopefully, give some relief to even people that weren't as enthusiastic about this experiment in the state of Illinois."

Again though, Spain echoed the sentiments of both Gordon-Booth and Asbell, these revenues won't be available for months, so patience will be key for budget makers.

"And it may take us through the first quarter, or the second quarter of the year to true up some of these numbers. But then I think we need to make sure that the spending of those dollars are accounted for," Spain said.

Peoria County Administrator Scott Sorrel says he's looking at May before he even considers adding marijuana tax revenues into the budget.

Tyler Lopez

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