As 185 dispensary licenses continue to mire in court, Grown In has learned that a raft of Illinois cannabis regulators have submitted their resignations to leave government. Today, Friday, May 13, is the last day in office for Danielle Perry, the Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer. Next Friday is the last day for Bret Bender, the state’s lead regulator for dispensaries, and the Governor’s communications lead for cannabis, Charity Green, left last month for a job in the private sector.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with her,” said Cannabis Business Association of Illinois executive director Pam Althoff about Perry. “[But] there were some misconceptions about what her role was as per statute and how she perceived that role.”
A statement released by the Office of Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer (CROO) says Perry left the position to join megabank Capital One as the Senior Director of Community Impact and Investment. Paul Isaac, the Deputy Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, will serve as Interim CROO for the next 60 days as the Governor selects the office’s next leader.
Perry’s post was a Senate-confirmed position originally created for Toi Hutchinson, a one-time Illinois state senator who helped lead the push to legalize adult use cannabis. But, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his intention in late 2019 to install Hutchinson in the position, legal scholars pointed out that the Illinois constitution bars legislators from taking positions their vote helped to create. Hutchinson was instead installed as a gubernatorial advisor, the “Cannabis Czar”. So, in August 2020, Perry, an advocate for urban farming, was brought in to fill the Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer (CROO) position.
But the CROO position was not endowed with any real power, say government insiders. It lacks direct authority over any agency and legislation creating it stipulates that the position is not allowed to directly manage programs or enforcement.
“Danielle Perry would say she had no authority. She told me that, ‘You guys made this position powerless and I can’t do anything,’” said State Rep. LaShawn Ford, who has made attempts to change the state’s cannabis laws. “She felt that her position didn’t have much authority at all to improve the cannabis industry.”
Bender too, has been subjugated to a state government unwilling or unable to make improvements on the original 2019 enacting law, which has ultimately led to less than two dozen companies controlling Illinois $1.7 billion annual cannabis industry.
As Deputy Director of the Cannabis Control Section at Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation since Spring 2019, Bret Bender has led the state’s regulation of dispensaries and the ill-fated application process for dispensary licenses. He’s been reportedly doing it with a tiny professional staff that’s overwhelmed by a never-done-before application process, managing dispensary responses to the COVID pandemic, and a series of lawsuits over applications that are quickly approaching the two-year mark.
Hutchinson, the head of Illinois’ cannabis program in fact, if not by title, left government last December to become the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. With her departure, Gov. Pritzker lost his main spokesperson for cannabis issues and the program lost a direct link to the governor’s office.
Perhaps a last ditch effort by Perry to make a change in Illinois’ cannabis regulatory program was legislation introduced last March to create a centralized Cannabis Equity and Oversight Commission. Reportedly infuriating bureaucrats who wanted to maintain control of their individual agencies, the proposed commission would have consolidated Illinois cannabis regulation and policy making under one agency – led by Perry. Before the legislation was introduced, Perry barnstormed legislators and cannabis stakeholders to obtain their support. But after it was rolled out in the Illinois House, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said nary a word of support and wouldn’t even return phone calls asking about the bill.
A spokesperson for Perry’s office, Bronte Foley, disputes that the commission was meant to be led by Perry.
“Danielle was not looking to be part of the commission. She was planning to leave for some time. It was part of a plan to eliminate her position,” said Foley.
Was the commission bill supported by Gov. Pritzker? “I don’t think so,” said Belicia Royster, a friend of Perry’s and executive director of SEEN, a cannabis social equity advocacy group. “I think that Danielle had the best intentions, but she wasn’t armed with the right authority for her position. She cared about the community and stakeholders for sure.”
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation did not respond to requests for comment by publication.
Note: This story was updated Friday, May 13, 2022 at at 5:45 p.m. Central Time.