Med pot police unit disbanded amid budget impasse

SHARE Med pot police unit disbanded amid budget impasse
SHARE Med pot police unit disbanded amid budget impasse

Among the casualties of the state’s budget impasse are a group of mostly retired police officers who were hired to watch over the state’s new medical marijuana program.

The seven investigators, many of them retired Illinois State Police troopers, made up the small medical marijuana unit of the ISP.

Earning $25 an hour, they were charged with investigating any alleged violations by medical marijuana growers or sellers, educating other police officers about the medical marijuana program and keeping tabs on their security systems.

They also helped to review applications of those who wanted to sell and grow the legalized medicine.

But the unit has been disbanded as officials in Springfield clash over a state spending plan.

“Due to the current budget impasse, the inspector contracts were not renewed,” ISP Master Sgt. Matt Boerwinkle said. “ISP is using existing staff to inspect facilities until the contract can be renewed.”

And before each marijuana farm center opens, the director of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program and an official with the Department of Agriculture are inspecting every center, Boerwinkle said.

Most of the inspectors received payments until the end of June, according to records from the state Comptroller’s office.

But the state is now in its second month without a budget as Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner clash over a spending plan.

There’s been cuts to social services, state projects and services.

And the medical cannabis program wasn’t immune.

Before the contract was cut, the group of mostly retired cops, including a former suburban deputy chief and former ISP supervisors, collected their state pensions, on average more than $8,000 a month while also getting paid up to $52,000 a year as part of the ISP’s new medical marijuana unit, pension records and state records show.

The arrangement flew in the face of Rauner’s reform agenda and his opposition to so-called double-dipping — earning a state pension plus another government paycheck.

But the administration had said it was a cost-saving measure.

“Using contractual workers over current ISP officers helps control costs because it ensures current staffing levels are not strained, which could lead to additional overtime,” said Joseph Wright, the director of the state’s medical marijuana program.

In total, the seven inspectors were paid about $158,000 for their collective work in the unit this year and last, records show.

Boerwinkle said, before they were disbanded, the medical marijuana inspectors reviewed the security plans of those who wanted to grow medical marijuana, crafted internal policies and had been “building the framework and process for inspecting facilities” and “coordinating with regional investigative units to ensure the [Medical Cannabis Pilot Program] program is not used as a pretext for illegal activity or that illegal activity is being used to facilitate participation in the [Medical Cannabis Pilot Program].

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