COLLINSVILLE, Ill. – With fewer than 4,000 approved patients, the nascent medical marijuana business in Illinois is off to a slow start. Yet it hasn’t kept away a cadre of cannabis entrepreneurs who once relied on guns, badges, tough drug laws and lengthy prison sentences to fight the drug.
While neither state regulators nor the medical marijuana industry track the number of employees who were former law enforcement officials, The Associated Press has identified no fewer than 17 in Illinois, many of whom have outsized influence — from a trustee of the state’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police to one-time undercover narcotics officers.
“Who better would you want to oversee your compliance than a cop?” said Scott Abbott, a retired Illinois State Police colonel paid to help a company adhere to the state’s strict laws and regulations at two dispensaries.
The pull of such post-police jobs extends well beyond Illinois, such as Washington state and Colorado, where marijuana is legal for everyone over 21. But industry members in Illinois and beyond say the state is unusual in the degree to which former law enforcement officers are not just working security but taking hands-on roles with patients and leading businesses— even with the uncertain future of a four-year pilot program that expires in 2017 and has received lukewarm support from first-term Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Many have had a late-stage transformation, coming to see the drug less as a societal harm and more as good public policy — and good business. There’s likely no better example than Terrance Gainer, a former Chicago homicide detective, Illinois State Police director, assistant police chief in Washington, D.C., U.S. Capitol police chief and U.S. Senate sergeant-at-arms.
After some initial reluctance, the 68-year-old said he was swayed in part by “the sea change in society and our attitudes” toward the drug and the possibility of big business. He advises Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries on its security needs, has worked with prospective marijuana-business owners in Florida and New York and testified in support of the industry before Maryland lawmakers.
“The business people involved in this are very serious about their investments,” he said.
Other players in Illinois include retired Will County Circuit Judge Robert Livas, co-founder of a company licensed to open two Chicago-area dispensaries who was once named judge of the year by the Illinois State Crime Commission. Another is a former Chicago-area assistant state’s attorney who handled gang crimes and now is vice president of a company that owns a dispensary. There’s also an ex-Cook County prosecutor-turned- general counsel of PharmaCannis, the state’s single largest pot provider with four dispensaries and two indoor growing operations.