Cannabis, Clout and Corruption

Cannabis, Clout and Corruption

I have been silent these past few months concerning cannabis but the odds are not in my favor. This past week I met up with some friends for great conversation and so-so wine.  A new acquaintance joined us and her story of woe drove me right back to the blogosphere and the cannabis chronicles.

So, let me share with you her press release.

 Medical Marijuana Industry Omits African Americans:

Black Applicants Denied Inclusion In Illinois’ Next Major Wealth Industry

CHICAGO, IL – Although historically, African Americans have paid the heaviest price when it comes to the illegal drug trade and sentencing, disproportionately filling the nation’s prisons for decades, indications are that they now are being shut out of the potential economic windfall from the move toward the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use.  At least that appears to be the case in Illinois.

Estimates are that by 2016, up to $36 million in profits from medical marijuana are in play in this state alone.  Studies reveal that nationwide, arrests for the possession of the drug—though rates of recreational usage among blacks and whites are roughly the same—are significantly higher for African Americans, than for whites.  On average, the rates of arrest are nearly four times greater for blacks, and can range as high as 10-to-30 times greater in certain counties.  But, they’ve not been accorded a seat at the table as Illinois readies to join the ranks of states where marijuana is legal.

In February, the Governor Bruce Rauner granted medical marijuana licenses to 18 companies for 52 retail dispensaries and cultivation shops statewide.  The sole African American applicant, BQ Enterprises, Inc., headed by respected Evanston-based entrepreneur Brothella Quick, was declined.  The process is more than peculiar, and is especially troubling given the state’s reputation for corruption, rewarding political connections, white males-only clubs and deals made on golf courses or in smoke-filled rooms.

Quick followed the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s application process to the letter, meeting all of the pertinent deadlines, as well as the requirements for credentials, business planning and documentation.  As for her qualifications, she has provided professional counseling/

Psychiatric intervention services on a voluntary basis for 33 years in District 34, which incorporates Evanston Skokie and Niles, Illinois.  She has resided there, performed home health care and medical consulting duties for more than two decades and she’s even a veteran who served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the U.S. States Public Health Services.

Even so, Quick’s application was bested by one year-old Oak Park company Pharmacann, LLC, which was awarded multiple licenses and opportunities to open dispensaries in Evanston, Ottawa, West Aurora and Schaumburg, not to mention a cultivation site in Dwight, Illinois.  District 34 was one of four dispensaries and three cultivation centers handed on a silver platter to Pharmacann, a wealth venture capitalist group with strong political ties and a well-connected lobbying firm, Thomson Weir, LLC, though Quick did all of the initial legwork to secure the location.

She had prepared the initial business plan for the area, and in the space of a year met regularly with the city manager, the director of Economic Development and the mayor of Evanston to identify a space suitable for the dispensary. The Mayor recommended a parking garage space at 1800 Maple Ave., which had not been utilized in two decades.  With this done, Quick moved forward, also investing face time with terminally ill patients, veterans with PTS and chronic pain, the Evanston police chief, alderman, community groups, neurologists, oncologists, attorneys, clergy and pharmacists; securing their input and buy-in.

“Up to this point, no one else showed interest in the site according to the city’s Dept. of Zoning and Economic development department,” says Quick.  “However, when Pharmacann showed interest, they went to the top of the list and I went to the very bottom. It seemed like everyone’s attitude changed. They started saying things to me like ‘you have stiff competition,’ and that ‘it did not look good.’

“Once the garage space was finally approved,” she continued, “I was informed by Paul Zalmazac of the Economic Development department that the City of Evanston did not want to enter into a lease agreement with me at that time.  They suddenly said they wanted to ‘just keep it open and available for whomever gets a license.’  I of course questioned the fairness of that, but that was told that it was final.”

Adds Quick: “I then requested a meeting with the committee of city council responsible for allowing the dispensary to exist in the space. I was initially denied, and was told that there would be no meeting until after the licenses were awarded.  I fought to get the item on the upcoming council agenda, and was able to get it added.  Strangely, when I got to the meeting, a representative for Pharmacann and another applicant were there.  I felt that that was patently unfair.  I have done all of the spadework and paved the way to get this property approved, but was being shut out.

“It’s disconcerting that there is no recourse or transparency to the process,” she relates further.  “The Governor’s office, and the Departments of Finance and Revenue stand firm on how this program unfolded, and refuse to make further comments claiming that it would violate a law—one they conveniently put in place prior to selecting the awardees. This just reeks of deceptiveness.”

In a January 18th article appearing in The Chicago Sun Times, spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement that Governor Rauner “has serious concerns about the law and how licensees are chosen.  However, he is committed to a quick and thorough review of the program, in the hopes of bringing clarity to the many concerned families across the state.  The new governor has said among his chief concerns are the clouted people that might be awarded licenses” —which blatantly seems to have happened regardless—while also brushing aside a minority and woman-owned business enterprise, as well as a veteran.  All qualifiers, which the Governor claims to be his priorities when it comes to the awarding of contracts in Illinois.

On the heels of this, Rauner signed Executive Order 15-12, designed to help bring more economic opportunities to minorities and veterans. “Illinois is an incredibly diverse state, and we benefit from that diversity,” the governor told the publication Pure News USA in its February 14th edition.  “But the unemployment rate for minorities and veterans is way too high. This executive order will help reveal some of the causes and identify ways to solve this injustice.”

Executive Order 15-12 ordered state agencies to require every labor organization, contractor or subcontractor that is party to a state contract to obtain and report within 30 days the total number of minorities and veteran participants in any offered training programs, as well as the minority and veteran participation rate in said programs.

Central Management Services (CMS) was further ordered to study the participation of minority owned and veteran businesses’ ability to obtain opportunities in the state of Illinois. The goal of the study is to identify any disparity in awards and make recommendations to fix those differences.  For its part, Pharmacann couldn’t be happier that its clout moved things along in spite of the safeguards Rauner claimed to have put in place, and the fairness he purported to be so concerned about.

"Hats off to Governor Rauner for getting this done in such short time," Teddy Scott, CEO of Pharmacann, LLC told a reporter for the online publication,  Scott confirmed plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary inside the Evanston parking garage after being awarded the only license available in District 34.  “I doubt this was one of the first things on his plate, but I can't say enough of the speed and level of detail his team put together in getting this done to help the patients."

More than 20 companies had sought the sole available license in District 34, which covers some or all of Evanston, Skokie, Niles and Morton Grove.  Scott called it one of the most competitive "if not the most competitive" license in the state.  "Our next step would be negotiating a lease with the city," said Scott, who plans to name the business, Pharmacann.  A shop, which he says, will be "discreet and professional."

Right after I received the copy of the press release, I saw an article stating that Governor Rauner isn’t convinced that the pilot project should be extended. Really? Maybe the real course to chart here would be to take a good long look at the selection process.

In a recent study done by Monmouth University, Americans rank New York the most corrupt state in the union. Not so, Louisiana bested both New York and New Jersey. Illinois hung in there at position number three, a dubious honor but Chicago wins hands down as the most corrupt city. You just have to watch the Good Wife to confirm that.

The bottom line is something is rotten and it ain’t in Denmark. So while Rauner cogitates maybe he better do some investigating or he may join the illustrious company of the four out of our last seven governors who ended up in jail. Talk on the street is that in addition to the steep application fees there were some “extras” upwards of $75,000 greasing the way. Welcome to Illinois!

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