ROCKFORD (WREX) — Most of Rockford was unfairly impacted by marijuana laws, but a new plan tied to the legalization of recreational marijuana tries to correct failed drug policies.
The west side of Rockford is home to 13th Ward Alderwoman Linda McNeely. Recently, the state recognized the area as one of several sections within the city where people paid a high price for marijuana violations.
“Certainly, we do have a problem here in the city with marijuana, “Ald. McNeely explains.
On the south and west sides of the city, a disproportionate number of people have been arrested and charged with crimes involving marijuana, but with the drug soon to be legalized, the state wants to correct its mistake.
“Folks who are living in disproportionately impacted area, which have high crime rates, low economic development and high poverty, have an opportunity to take advantage of this new legislation,” Nick Meyer, the legal director for the city of Rockford, says.
People who want to get involved in the legal marijuana industry, and meet certain criteria, can apply for a special application under the banner of a social equity applicant.
In order to qualify, you have to have lived in a disproportionately impacted area for five out of the last 10 years. You can also qualify if you or family member have been convicted of a cannabis-related offense.
People who do qualify can receive financial and technical support. Some of those perks Meyer details:
“Employment, access to education and access to loans and grants, which can help them get their business started and also help with work-force development to get folks trained.”
But Ald. McNeely isn’t confident the program will have a positive impact on her ward.
“I’m not sure,” Ald. McNeely ponders. “I’m really not sure because I have no basis to go. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything similar to this in my lifetime.”
Ald. McNeely did say she hopes the legalization of marijuana doesn’t have an underbelly like Prohibition did in the 1920’s, but she is optimistic her community has the opportunity for success because this program.
“I would love to be able to see some people in the community become a part of this (legal marijuana industry),” Ald. McNeely says.
At the end of the day, it’s a second chance for Rockford’s west side communities to get involved in something they’ve historically been incarcerated for.