People who have been negatively affected by the war on drugs can apply for $21 million in taxpayer-funded low-interest loans from the state to get started in the cannabis industry.

The state’s cannabis legalization law created the Cannabis Business Development Fund, which will make low-interest loans available for qualifying applicants. The funds come from the licensing fees paid by existing dispensaries and cultivators.

The governor's cannabis control person, Toi Hutchinson, said the program has gotten attention around the world and “as far away as New Zealand to talk about what Illinois did, because every equity program … usually fails when there’s no capital invested behind it.”

The first $21 million in loans being announced this week is among a series of policies included in the state's recreational cannabis law. State lawmakers said the law was designed for a smooth rollout and equitable opportunities in the industry, which has so far been dominated by wealthy white men.

One of the initial phases of the rollout was getting existing medical cannabis growers and retailers licensed to begin selling recreational cannabis on Jan. 1.

“The whole point of each phase of this rollout is because they all work together,” Hutchinson said.

To get a state loan, eligible applicants must be from areas with high numbers of cannabis-related arrests, or have been arrested for cannabis, or have a parent, child or spouse who has a cannabis conviction.

Businesses at least 51 percent owned or controlled by one or more eligible people also can apply. As can businesses with more than 10 full-time employees if half of those employees come from areas disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs or who have previous cannabis convictions. 

State officials expect the fund to eventually surpass $30 million.

Hutchison said the loan program was just one aspect of how the recreational cannabis law will help reverse some of the harms from the war on drugs.

“So the No. 1 barrier to entrance is access to capital and we created a revolving loan to help seed social equity applicants,” Hutchison said. “We needed sales to start so that we can fund the money to go into community reinvestment programs because equity is way bigger than just who owns it. It’s also what you do with the money and it’s also how you undo the harms that were actually done during the entire prohibition.”

Information on the applications is available from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.