ROCKFORD — City officials on Thursday will invite organizations, businesses and nonprofits to apply for $400,000 worth of cannabis-funded grants.
Called the Rockford REGROW Grant Program, it aims to support projects that promote economic development, reduce gun violence, provide job training and improve the lives of those disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition in the city.
Rockford Community and Economic Development Director Karl Franzen said although the grants are designed to benefit communities that have been most affected by the war on drugs, the parameters were purposefully left broad to allow for innovation and creativity.
“We have a scoring system, and we want these programs to be successful, so we want to help these organizations build implementation teams and really drill down to specific deliverables to make sure these dollars are put to good use, but we don’t want to be limited by a preconceived notion of success,” Franzen said.
Aldermen in January created a cannabis fund designed to support programs for economic and business development, education, job training and youth programming. It is funded by a 3% sales tax on the sale of recreational marijuana.
A virtual kickoff presentation of the Rockford REGROW grant is planned at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the city’s Facebook page, and electronic applications should be available on the city website. Applications are due by July 31.
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REGROW stands for “Reinvest, energize. Give. Restore opportunity. Win.”
City staff will work with the city’s Community Relations Commission to recommend to City Council which applicants should receive shares of the first $400,000 cycle of grant funding.
All applicants will be considered in a tier one pool. A select few applicants will continue on to a second tier in which more funding will be available. Second round projects will be required to submit more detailed plans, budgets, objectives and measurable outcomes.
There will be five 2021 “quick-deployment” awards of $10,000 available.
A two-year, $150,000 award; three, one-year, $50,000 awards; and a $50,000 “future project” award will be available in the second round.
“Communities across the country have felt the impact of the imbalanced enforcement of the war on drugs and we commend Rockford for strategically reinvesting cannabis tax revenue where it’s needed most,” said Jason Erkes, chief communications officer for Cresco Labs/Sunnyside, one of two marijuana dispensaries in Rockford.
The REGROW grant program is loosely modeled on Portland, Oregon’s Social Equity and Educational Development, or SEED, initiatives.
According to information from Portland, the program is meant to support projects that seek to “repair the lasting legal, social, economic and intergenerational consequences past cannabis prohibition has had on Black, indigenous, and people of color communities.”
Now in its fourth year, the program has grown exponentially, said Portland Strategic Communications Officer Daniel McArdle-Jaimes.
When it was first rolled out in 2017, there were three grant recipients chosen from nine applicants who shared $350,000 in cannabis tax funding. In May, the Portland program awarded grants totaling $1.8 million in cannabis tax revenue to 17 nonprofit organizations and businesses.
The recipients were chosen from among 123 applicants. It could be that Rockford will see similar growth.
McArdle-Jaimes said Portland has focused the grants on educational projects that include workforce development and training; legal aid for expungements, re-entry and undoing harm; and economic development programs.
“Its workforce development, its erasing criminal records for people who have been disproportionately arrested,” McArdle-Jaimes said. “We are working to make sure they can start over on their record. I think a number of other cities and states are also mirroring that as well, recognizing that having a criminal record for something as minor as cannabis possession seems silly these days.”