Article by Sam Stecklow, The Kind
When writing the law that created Illinois’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program in 2013, its sponsor, powerful state representative Lou Lang, included broad language exempting wide swaths of information from being released under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which stipulates that all government documents not specifically exempted are public information. Lang also included penalties for any state employee who releases such information, including a four-figure fine and a misdemeanor charge.
Rep. Lang told KINDLAND in a phone interview last month his reason for doing so was to keep information on applications for dispensary and cultivation licenses secret from the state regulators responsible for scoring the applications, ostensibly to avoid corruption and favoritism to politically-connected figures. But seeing that FOIA deals with public disclosure of information, not the government’s internal license-scoring procedures—and the fact that other states, such as Maryland, have been able to reconcile internal blindness and public disclosure—Lang’s answer leaves a lot unexplained.
So if journalists, and the general public, in Illinois are kept from finding out the names, or even anonymous demographic factors, of the people with state licenses to grow and sell medical cannabis—businesses with the potential to be incredibly lucrative in the nation’s fifth-largest state—what can we find out?
For one thing, we can see what data the government has previously blocked from public disclosure. KINDLAND requested to view rejected FOIA applications submitted to three Illinois state agencies specifically barred from disclosing information by Lang’s law. What came back shows that even the most mundane government information, basic particulars that most states would normally disclose without a second thought, is being held secret from the Illinois public.
The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which is responsible for scoring and distributing dispensary applications as well as enforcing dispensary regulations, coughed up 40 FOIA requests rejected under Section 145 of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, titled “Confidentiality.” The requests come from reporters across the state (and a couple of national outlets), law firms representing dispensaries, cannabis trade groups, and private individuals.