Editorial: No secrets in medical marijuana picks
If there was ever a time for Illinois government to be open and forthright, it's in selecting those who will grow and sell the first legal marijuana in our state.
But that's not how it's happening.
Those who want to grow and sell medical marijuana had to get their applications in to the state by Monday. But the state's not going to tell the public who the applicants are, owing to a secrecy clause in the 2013 law.
Down on Page 63, the law says applications, supporting information and even addresses of businesses that propose to grow or dispense medical marijuana are "exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and not subject to disclosure to any individual or public or private entity."
State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and the bill's author, said the secrecy is meant to protect a selection process in which identifying information is redacted before state workers rate applicants and to keep applicants from finding out about and trying to gain an advantage over one another, possibly by corrupt means.
We see it differently, given that bad things tend to happen when Illinois government business is kept hidden from public view.
This particular government business doesn't just stay far away under the Capitol dome -- it's part of the process of deciding who will grow and sell medical marijuana in our communities, and where. That makes disclosure even more critical to inform and protect the public.
Numerous companies applying for licenses to grow or sell medical marijuana in the suburbs have come out in the open as they seek municipal backing for their applications to the state, with municipalities often seeking a pledge of money in return. Elk Grove Village, for instance, inked deals with 12 applicants who would contribute to the village and to local nonprofits if they get a license to operate in town.
Elsewhere around the state, instances have surfaced of politically connected lobbyists and former state employees having ties to applicants for medical marijuana licenses. Competition is likely to be intense -- only 21 growing center licenses and 60 dispensary licenses will be granted. And there's significant money involved, with nonrefundable application fees up to $25,000, annual license fees up to $200,000 and millions of dollars of potential revenue for the chosen companies.
All of those elements -- money, political links, quid pro quo -- demand transparent dealings by the state. Sadly, it's hard to see an easy remedy. Releasing the information will take a change in law. We urge lawmakers to take up the cause for subsequent license applicants, since a state process that protects the interest of anyone but the citizens does not get this new experiment off to a good start.