As Illinois prepares to legalize marijuana, those who have been adversely affected by the war on drugs are set to become a high commodity in the weed business.

The formerly incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses and those who live in areas heavily targeted for cannabis arrests are primary focuses of the “social equity” aspect of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalizes adult use of cannabis on Jan. 1.

“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,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said last month.

But what are the areas disproportionately affected? The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has created a handy map of the impacted communities around Illinois, which allows you to search for your own address to determine if you qualify.

The impacted areas cover a large swath of the South and West sides, along with a few slivers of the North Side near Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park. Outside of the city, those areas include: Joliet, Aurora, Rockford, Springfield, Normal-Bloomington, Champaign, Peoria and many other areas.

Disproportionately Impacted Areas means a census tract meets one of the following criteria: a poverty rate of at least 20%, at least 75% of children in a federal free lunch program, at least 20% of the area’s residents receive SNAP benefits or an average unemployment rate more than 120% of the national average, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The areas can also have high a high rate of arrests and convictions for cannabis-related offenses.



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“The State of Illinois is committed to ensuring that communities historically impacted by the criminalization of cannabis have an opportunity to participate in the legal cannabis industry,” according to a release from the DCEO laying out the criteria for social equity applicants.

Social equity applicants are eligible for reduced license and application fees and low-interest loans. They also receive 50 points — out of 250 — on their license application score and technical assistance and support from DCEO for creating a business plan and applying for a license, DCEO said.

In order for businesses to meet the criteria, they must be majority-owned or controlled by one or more people who have lived in a disproportionately impacted area for 5 of the last ten years, have been arrested or convicted for a cannabis-related offense eligible for expungement, or have a parent, child or spouse arrested or convicted for an expungeable offense. 

Businesses may also meet the criteria by employing a majority of full-time employees with similar qualifications. These employees do not need to live in a disproportionately impacted area for 5 years, but do need to currently. The business must also have at least ten full- time employees, the DCEO said.

Josh is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @TheVoiceofJosh.

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