As Illinois Governor, Lawmakers Push For Adult-Use Legalization, Medical Cannabis Companies Elbow to Keep Head Start

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Illinois’ biggest cannabis firms have stayed out of Chicago’s pricey and wide open 14-way mayor’s race, set for Tuesday. But in the last election cycle, some of these companies have been donating to a new statewide political fund, pooling money to advance the medical cannabis industry’s interests, and also donating to key state lawmakers as the state prepares to legalize adult-use cannabis this year, according to a review of campaign donations.

The new Political Action Committee is called the Illinois Relief Fund, which has stockpiled $103,100 so far, mostly from large medical cannabis operators in Illinois, according to Reform For Illinois, a campaign finance transparency advocacy group.

The group’s biggest donors:

  • Two holding companies for Green Thumb Industries, contributing close to the maximum contribution limit for a total of $44,400;
  • A holding company for Cresco Labs contributing $22,200;
  • Windy City Cannabis with a $22,000 donation.

Because Governor J.B. Pritzker has promised to legalize and the state’s Democratic majorities expect new legislation this year, the Illinois Relief Fund is seeking to hold off competition for the state’s sixteen growers and fifty-five medical dispensaries, according to the Chicago Tribune. (New York’s proposed adult-use legalization bill would grant a similar leg-up for medical cannabis businesses in that state.)

PharmaCann, a big donor to state lawmakers’ campaigns, also gave $5,000 to the fund; Salveo Health and Wellness, a medical cannabis dispensary, gave $7,500; and cultivator Nature’s Grace and Wellness donated $5,000.

David Flood, whose role with the group and relationship to the companies isn’t clear, formed the Illinois Relief Fund late last year in Palatine, Illinois, according to state filings. The fund has spent just $3,000 so far—on the large lobbying group Raucci & Sullivan Strategies, LLC, which promotes many interests, companies, and causes, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chicago police union.

Cresco, Windy City, Green Thumb Industries, and PharmaCann did not respond to requests for comment on the fundraising group.

Several of Chicago’s mayoral candidates have said they want to make sure that the city receives its fair share of tax revenue of adult-use cannabis. Governor J.B. Pritzker, who campaigned on the issue, also said last week that revenue for cannabis legalization would help with the state’s dire fiscal situation, an estimated $3.2 billion debt, with $170 million in tax revenue expected this year from adult-use cannabis legalization.

Some precincts in Chicago will also see an advisory ballot question Tuesday related to cannabis that asks whether the city should “appropriate tax or other revenues it receives from the sales of marijuana towards neighborhood reinvestment in low­ income, disenfranchised communities hit hard by the war on drugs.” The question was placed on the ballot by the non-profit advocacy group Action Now Institute,  according to an election’s office spokesman.

There are a few other ways the  growing medical cannabis industry in Illinois is spending campaign cash:

  • PharmaCann, based in Oak Park, Illinois, was a big statewide contributor with $38,250 in total donations, according to Reform for Illinois data. The biggest recipient of PharmaCann’s contributions was state Senator Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, who received $10,000 in recent months from the company. Harmon shepherded state legislation last year that opened up medical cannabis for patients using opioids. Senate President John Cullerton received $1,000 and powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan $2,500 from the company.
  • Aside from its large contribution to the Illinois Relief Fund, Windy City Cannabis, which operates medical dispensaries in the Chicago suburbs, contributed $5,500 to statehouse candidates. That includes $1,000 to Democrat Bob Morgan, a former Illinois healthcare attorney who some called the state’s “marijuana czar” for his work in implementing the medical cannabis program in 2013. Morgan is now a freshman House member representing northern Chicago suburbs. Windy City’s largest donations, totaling $2,750, went to a fundraising group supporting State Senator Harmon.
  • Both Windy City and PharmaCann gave donations in July 2017—$1,000 and $2,500, respectively—to a medical cannabis supporter who resigned on January 7, two days into his new term. Rep. Lou Lang was a medical cannabis supporter who had been accused of verbal abuse and “inappropriate behavior” by a woman who pushed for the state’s medical cannabis law in 2013 and for patient access in the years since. After the allegation, Lang resigned his leadership post.

Lang told the Chicago Tribune that his resignation had nothing to do with the abuse allegations, and said the state’s medical cannabis was “at the top of the list” of his top accomplishments.

“We have close to 50,000 patients now who are having a much better quality of life with this product,” he said.

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