Will pot sales fuel prevention funding? Advocates fear not

 
 
Updated 8/3/2019 5:43 PM

Before any money from the sale of recreational marijuana flows to the state of Illinois, these hoped-for funds already have destinations spelled out.

After implementation, administration, enforcement and expungement expenses are paid, the Department of Human Services will get 20% of revenue for substance abuse prevention, and a drug treatment fund will get 2% for a public information campaign.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The local government distributive fund will receive 8% for crime prevention and enforcement, a budget stabilization fund will get 10%, a new grant program will receive 25% to support economic development and violence prevention, and the general fund will get 35%.

The Illinois Department of Revenue projects recreational marijuana sellers and growers will generate more than $57 million in tax revenues and licensing fees this fiscal year. Tax revenues would amount to $140.5 million in 2021 and more than double by 2024, estimates say.

The Department of Human Services includes priorities for using some new cannabis-related funding in its fiscal year 2020 budget highlights. Despite these projections, prevention experts caution the flow of new tax dollars may not be as fast as desired.

"We have to be careful to remember that the state has to start covering their costs of regulation before any of the money gets divvied out," said Jamie Epstein, co-founder of the Stand Strong prevention coalition in the Stevenson High School area. "So it's not going to be much for a while."

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The worry, primarily, is it will cost too much to administer and enforce the new law, leaving precious little available to be split into the percentages for prevention, treatment, public information or the other listed priorities.

A November 2018 study on the "Economic and Social Costs of Legalized Marijuana" released by Colorado Christian University could be one basis for that fear. It found the legal marijuana industry has adversely affected Colorado's state finances because "for every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the costs of legalization."

"The problem is that what we're seeing in the other states, what is promised and forecast is not being delivered. That's of course our concern as well," said Margaret Polovchak, manager of prevention services at OMNI Youth Services in Buffalo Grove. "There's currently not enough funding for prevention and treatment options. So why should we assume that there will be sufficient (funding) in the future?"

OMNI receives $290,000 a year from the Department of Human Services to conduct substance use prevention for 15,000 youths in Wheeling Township, Polovchak said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That money comes from the department's budget for substance use prevention of roughly $18 million this year, spokeswoman Meghan Powers said. That budget could increase with funding from recreational marijuana, which officials plan to spend on the following initiatives, according to budget highlights:

• Adding outpatient substance use treatment at nonprofit primary care practices, hospitals and health centers.

• Directing more drug offenders into treatment.

• Increasing prison capacity to coordinate care for inmates who need substance use and mental health treatment.

• Funding more housing for people recovering from substance use disorders.

• Expanding school-based prevention education.

• Increasing Crisis Intervention Team and Mental Health First Aid training for police and first responders.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat and one of the cannabis law's original sponsors, said it will take some time for the recreational market to mature and reach full revenue projections. But she said directing more money toward prevention to make it "a robust effort" is one of the state's priorities. And any new prevention spending will help.

But these assurances don't ease the fear of prevention advocates that use and addiction could rise and new money will fall short.

"They're just spinning their wheels" with plans for additional prevention funding, said 55th District state Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat who opposed legalization. "This will get more people addicted, then we'll try to educate them."

New money can only help state-funded organizations. Many prevention groups are nonprofits that don't receive any state money -- and therefore don't stand to see a boost.

The Stand Strong coalition, for example, is primarily funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The group is in the fourth of five years receiving $125,000 a year through the Drug-Free Community grant program, Epstein said. She fears that money will have to stretch further if demand for prevention increases along with marijuana availability.

"I don't know if there's an amount of money they can give us to combat what can happen," she said.

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