Marijuana sales generating millions in tax dollars for social programs in Illinois

A little more than a year after recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois, sales are smoking. But where does that money go?

Last year’s sales exceeded $900 million, generating about $235 million in new state taxes. Under the law legalizing marijuana, 35 percent goes into the state’s General Revenue fund to pay for things like education, public safety and pensions.

Twenty-five percent goes to the Restore, Reinvest and Renew program (R3) for social equity. Twenty percent is earmarked for mental health and substance abuse services, 10 percent to pay down the state’s massive backlog of bills, 8 percent for local law-enforcement and 2 percent for drug and addiction education.


The Chicago Youth Boxing Club in South Lawndale, a nonprofit youth health and wellness program in the basement of an old church in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, is getting a good chunk of its funding from legalized pot.

"I’m happy something good is coming out of marijuana. If they’re helping out the neighborhood, I’m so for it," said Gabriel Navarro of Chicago Youth Boxing Club.

The boxing club recently obtained a $40,000 grant, one of about 200 organizations statewide to divvy up the cash windfall from Illinois burgeoning recreational pot industry.

"Even in a pandemic we’re seeing very significant activity levels and revenues are far exceeding expectations," Lawrence Msall, Civic Federation.

Delrice Adams runs the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the state agency that oversees how that R3 social equity money is spent. In January the agency issued its first round of $31 million in grants to about 200 organizations around the state, including the Chicago Youth Boxing Club.

"The overarching goal is really to address the harm of the war on drugs. We know that communities of color or hit hardest by the war on drugs," Adams said. "This is an opportunity for the state to really right that wrong, to really intentionally invest in those communities."

Recreational marijuana is also providing a windfall for municipalities like Naperville which has three dispensaries and assesses a special local tax of 3 percent that’s already generating as much revenue as all the shops and restaurants downtown.

"Our entire downtown business district combined brings in about $1.7 million a year. So for the cannabis industry to be able to match our entire downtown business district, it’s just kind of hard to put your mind around that," said Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico.