Illinois cannabis regulators clam up as applicants and legislators ask tough questions

Illinois Reps. La Shawn Ford (D) and Kathleen Willis (D) held an online press conference with rejected dispensary applicants Wednesday.

Illinois state cannabis regulators stopped responding to requests for dispensary application scorecards as additional application process discrepancies came to light and a pair of legislators held a press conference to call for letting more applicants into the dispensary lottery drawing scheduled for September 23.

Multiple dispensary applicants reported their requests sent today to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) for application scorecards were rejected with an auto response email, “The division will not be answering any questions regarding the status of an application for conditional adult use dispensing organization license.” Applicants who sent in requests last week or Tuesday morning received their application scorecards.

Requests for an explanation from IDFPR communications staff also received no response by publication and a request to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office for an interview with Cannabis Czar Toi Hutchinson was met with a statement that she would only respond to written interview questions. Grown In does not submit written questions to government policymakers as a matter of editorial policy.

The validity of the entire application scoring process was also called into question, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday night that a member of one application group, Hamd Kamal of EHR Holdings LLC, is an employee of KPMG, the accounting firm hired by IDFPR in a $4.2 million no-bid contract to manage the scoring. Kamal’s group includes former Chicago Police superintendent Terry Hillard. Last week Kamal’s LinkedIn profile indicated he was “Risk Consultant” at KPMG. By Tuesday morning, the company had been scrubbed from Kamal’s profile.

A KPMG spokesman told the Sun-Times, that, “Kamal ‘is an employee but he was not part of the engagement team that scored the applications.’”

KPMG was also awarded a $2.5 million no-bid contract with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to manage scoring for craft grow, transporter, and infuser license applications. Those license awards are expected to be announced later this month.

Dispensary applicants with application problems continued to come forward Wednesday. One applicant, Joline Rivera from the Functional Food Inc. group told Grown In that her team submitted three identical applications, and received discrepancy notices for two of the applications, but no comment for the third.

“I don’t know if they missed it or what?” said Rivera. “I emailed the IDFPR and got a response saying they don’t accept emails.”

“I really believed they were going to do right. I should have known better,” she told Grown In.

Application discrepancy notices questioning the veracity of social equity applicants is also becoming a theme. The Chicago Cannabis Club team, advised by Charlena Berry, is one application group that got a discrepancy notice questioning the social equity status of their team leader, a Latino veteran.

“We provided information to show he was [from] a disproportionately impacted area, then they gave us a deficiency. I thought it was because he served time away. We responded with tax returns, and double and triple checked everything for the deficiency [response],” said Berry. Time away while in the military is not supposed to count against time away from a disproportionately impacted area, according to IDFPR application rules.

Another veteran, Alvaro Colin, leading another application group, Prairie State Cannabis LLC, also had to submit information regarding his social equity status twice – once for the application and then again in response to a discrepancy notice.

“I was constantly jumping through hoops providing bills and tax returns. It’s like they were looking for little reasons to disqualify us,” said Colin. “In the end they were just going to do what they were going to do.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Illinois State Reps. LaShawn Ford (D) and Kathleen Willis (D) conducted a press conference with rejected applicants to call for regulators to release scoring charts and the scoring rubric, explain KPMG’s role, and to increase the number of applicants that get into the dispensary lottery drawing.

“When we passed the law about expanding recreational marijuana, we were sold and told very distinctly that Illinois would be on the forefront,” said Rep. Willis. “We were anticipating some really great results and see that Illinois did something right. Unfortunately we didn’t see that. We did not see the social equity piece come into play.”

“We want to make sure that our definition of social equity matches what KPMG has been using,” said Rep. Willis.

“If we don’t get the answers before these licenses are announced, then it’s too late,” said Rep. Ford.