In the Cook County of my youth, an honest politician was not one who couldn’t be bought — we didn’t have any of those — but one who once bought stayed bought. His word was good.
I’ve thought about that recently as the heat gets turned up on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. With mounting evidence that the process of selecting licensees for growing and dispensing medical marijuana was hopelessly tainted, the governor has doubled down. Not only will he stand by the results of the process, but he also will defend those results against legal challenge by using money that had been earmarked for veterans’ programs.
In an old-school Cook County sense, his honesty is commendable.
I cannot say with absolute certainty that the system was illegal. No one can. The system was, and is, shrouded in mystery, and when politicians shroud something in mystery, you can be sure they have good reasons for not wanting us to know what they’re up to. Sunshine requests have been thwarted. Security wasn’t this tight for D-Day.
Actually, our good vibes about the Medical Marijuana Initiative went south even before the election. That’s when the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Organization appeared. Its lobbyist was Steve Tilley, a former legislator and longtime pal of the governor. There is an odor that floats around Tilley’s operations, and it ain’t burning hemp. It’s influence.
Given Tilley’s history and sudden interest in pot, there was a sense that them that gives were going to be them that gets. Post-Dispatch reporters Nassim Benchaabane, Kurt Erickson and Jack Suntrup have made a strong effort to learn the identity of them that got. The news has been a buzzkill. How about a payday lender who was forced out of business in other states for predatory practices? He was on the board of Tilley’s organization. He got two licenses. An executive for a company that operates casinos in Latin American countries, and was sued for allegedly embezzling money from that company, got seven licenses. He, too, was on Tilley’s board.
How did this happen?
Well, standing on top of the whole process was Lyndall Fraker, the governor’s choice for director of medical marijuana. His qualifications seem vague — I’m being kind — but he seems like a nice enough fellow. He was a legislator who was about to be term-limited out. He needed a job. Maybe he thought that he was going to be in charge of a program that was going to help sick people.
But this program has never been about helping sick people. The reason the governor and his cronies are so intent on defending the results of the licensing debacle is that the folks who get the licenses for medicinal marijuana will almost surely get the licenses to sell recreational marijuana when and if that comes. Suddenly, you’re talking big, big money.
What should we do now?
Somehow, we’ve got to overturn the current licensing results. As a patient at Siteman Cancer Center myself, I am loathe to deprive suffering people of medicinal pot, but for the moment, we’re just going to have to go to Illinois to get our dope.
To start over, we’ll need a qualified director. I’ve got just the guy, retired Supreme Court Judge Mike Wolff. Just this week, he wrote a thoughtful op-ed for this newspaper about the current mess. A director who understands the subject? What a novel idea.
Needless to say, the director’s first goal would be to keep politics out of the selection process. Nobody need hire a lobbyist. Also, the process should be open. No reason for secrecy. All applications should be public record.
Under the Tilley-Parson plan, a single applicant could get multiple dispensary licenses. That should be stopped. Also, how about giving Missourians an edge? No more out-of-state operations with “local partners.”
Finally, racial equity should be considered. There are some fellows in outstate Missouri who grow some very fine pot, but weed has big-city roots. I think of jazz musicians, beatniks and African-Americans. In fact, I bought my first nickel bag from a black guy in Chicago.
What are African-Americans supposed to do under the Tilley-Parson plan? Buy their pot from a payday lender?
I’d love to see some northside charitable organizations get a piece of this pie. The state could help with financing. Also, the Blues Museum. That fine organization should get a dispensary.
I’ll let Director Wolff sort out the details. And even though we are going to keep Parson far away from the new selection process, we ought to acknowledge his honesty. He’s old-school.
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