Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company


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

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

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

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. Marshals 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 located next to the state police regional

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

Denver Relief Consulting, which handles everything from business plan
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,
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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