Pubdate: Mon, 28 Dec 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 the Associated Press
Author: Alan Scher Zagier, the Associated Press


Big Business

'Who Better Would You Want to Oversee Your Compliance Than a Cop?'

COLLINSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - 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 pot. STEVE NAGY / BELLEVILLE NEWS-DEMOCRAT Scott 
Abbott, a retired Illinois State Police colonel, speaks with Mark 
Lewis, left, and Jeff Greer in September at the new medical-marijuana 
dispensary being built in Collinsville, Ill.

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 
Chicagoarea 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.

There's also Arnette Heintze, a former U.S. Secret Service senior 
executive who helped protect two presidents. Terry Hillard, Heintze's 
partner at the Chicago consulting firm that advises medical-marijuana 
growers and retailers on security, spent five years as Chicago's top cop.

Retired U.S. Marshal's inspector Jim Smith said his private security 
company is "trying to corner the market" in medical-marijuana 
protection and armored transportation.

The law-enforcement ties run especially deep in Collinsville, where 
Abbott is joined by a dispensary manager who also spent more than two 
decades with the highway patrol. Their commute is familiar - the 
soon-to-open HCI Alternatives dispensary is next to the state police 
regional headquarters.

Former law-enforcement officers proliferate in the states that 
pioneered the medical-marijuana and legal marijuana businesses.

Denver Relief Consulting, which handles everything from businessplan 
development to legislative advocacy, counts a retired Los Angeles 
County sergeant and Israeli National Security adviser among its top executives.

A Seattle-based medical-marijuana investment firm lured Pat Moen, a 
10-year Drug Enforcement Administration official, to join it in 2013.

"It's been incredibly rewarding," he said, estimating he's spoken 
with more than 100 current or former law-enforcement officers about 
making a similar career transition. "This is a mainstream product 
sought my mainstream consumers."

Ben Percy, general manager of Trinity Compassionate Care Center in 
Peoria, Ill., switched careers after a 27-year stint with the 
Illinois State Police that included an assignment on a drug 
interdiction team that patrolled Interstate 55, which connects the 
Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes.

"We took quite a bit of money, drugs and criminals off the road," he said.

Percy and others draw a sharp distinction between medical marijuana 
and recreational use but also describe dramatic conversions borne 
from seeing the benefits of marijuana for the sickest of patients, 
including children with epilepsy or cancer-stricken relatives.

"I've done a total about-face on my views," he said.

Abbott and others noted that they're still involved in the business 
they were before - law enforcement.

"I never got to pick and choose which laws I enforced ... This is the 
same thing," Abbott added. "It's legal right now. As long as they 
follow the law, I've got no problem with it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom