Ques­tion raised over for­mer state Sen. Toi Hutchin­son’s orig­i­nal job ti­tle.

Ap­point­ment may have run afoul of state con­sti­tu­tion

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jamie Munks [email protected]­bune. com

In Septem­ber, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s ad­min­is­tra­tion made a splash by an­nounc­ing Toi Hutchin­son would over­see the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Illi­nois’ new recre­ational cannabis pro­gram, laid out in land­mark legislatio­n the then-state se­na­tor played a key role in draft­ing.

A Pritzker spokes­woman said in a Sept. 26 email that Hutchin­son’s salary would be $220,000, and that “the ti­tle is in statute so it’s Illi­nois Cannabis Reg­u­la­tion Over­sight Of­fi­cer,” a job quickly dubbed “pot czar.”

But when Hutchin­son of­fi­cially started work for the ad­min­is­tra­tion Nov. 4, it was as “Se­nior Ad­viser to the Gov­er­nor on Cannabis Con­trol.”

It’s un­clear when the de­ci­sion was made to give Hutchin­son the se­nior ad­viser ti­tle. But ap­point­ing her to the job created in legislatio­n she voted on could have run afoul of the state con­sti­tu­tion.

The con­sti­tu­tion bars mem­bers of the Gen­eral Assem­bly from be­ing “ap­pointed to a pub­lic of­fice which shall have been created or the com­pen­sa­tion for which shall have been in­creased by the Gen­eral Assem­bly dur­ing that term.”

The pro­vi­sion is aimed at “mak­ing sure they had sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers” among the branches of gov­ern­ment, said Ann Lousin, a law pro­fes­sor at the John Mar­shall Law School at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago and a le­gal re­searcher for the con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion that drafted the 1970 Illi­nois Con­sti­tu­tion.

The gov­er­nor’s of­fice did not di­rectly re­spond to ques­tions of whether the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion was a fac­tor in in­stalling Hutchin­son in the se­nior ad­viser job af­ter say­ing weeks ear­lier she would be the new Illi­nois cannabis reg­u­la­tion over­sight of­fi­cer.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion said in one state­ment pro­vided in re­sponse to ques­tions from the Tri­bune that the pro­vi­sion would not ap­ply to the se­nior ad­viser po­si­tion Hutchin­son holds, and in an­other: “Toi Hutchin­son was not ap­pointed to the po­si­tion of Illi­nois Cannabis Reg­u­la­tion Over­sight Of­fi­cer,” di­rectly con­tra­dict­ing the Septem­ber email from Pritzker’s of­fice.

Pritzker’s of­fice said the dis­tinc­tion in the new job is that it is within the gov­er­nor’s of­fice, rather than in a sep­a­rate state agency.

“What hap­pened here is that we de­cided, af­ter the pas­sage of the law and once we started im­ple­men­ta­tion ef­forts, that the big-pic­ture over­sight of the cannabis work re­quired some­one in­side the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice to help co­or­di­nate and pri­or­i­tize all of the var­i­ous agency-level work and to han­dle the high-pro­file out­reach that will be nec­es­sary as we work to en­sure the suc­cess of the eq­uity pro­vi­sions in the law,” the gov­er­nor’s of­fice said in a state­ment is­sued Nov. 21. “The Gov­er­nor felt that Ms. Hutchin­son was the most qual­i­fied per­son to do that job.”

In a text mes­sage, Hutchin­son con­firmed her ti­tle was “Se­nior Ad­viser” and said she didn’t have any­thing to add be­yond what was pro­vided to the Tri­bune by the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly’s ap­proval of the state’s recre­ational cannabis pro­gram marked one of sev­eral vic­to­ries law­mak­ers de­liv­ered to the first-term Demo­cratic gov­er­nor dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion this year. Pritzker signed the legislatio­n into law this sum­mer, and in the months since, the state has been pre­par­ing for the mas­sive pol­icy change, lead­ing up to the sched­uled Jan. 1 start of le­gal recre­ational mar­i­juana sales.

A Demo­crat from south sub­ur­ban Olympia Fields, Hutchin­son spent a decade in the state Se­nate be­fore re­sign­ing her seat this fall to take the new job with the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Hutchin­son has been a fierce ad­vo­cate for Illi­nois’ cannabis law to have a strong so­cial jus­tice frame­work, in­clud­ing pro­vi­sions that al­low peo­ple to have low-level mar­i­juana con­vic­tions ex­punged and mea­sures de­signed to help mi­nor­ity-owned busi­nesses en­ter the in­dus­try.

“We have a whole in­dus­try that’s treat­ing it like the gold rush, but you have gen­er­a­tions of folks who are still liv­ing with all the im­pacts of what the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem did to them,” Hutchin­son said in March. “It’s un­fair to dis­cuss this in any other way.”

Hutchin­son’s se­nior ad­viser po­si­tion in the gov­er­nor’s of­fice tasks her with “work­ing closely with stake­hold­ers around Illi­nois as well as state agen­cies to en­sure that Illi­nois’ cannabis le­gal­iza­tion con­tin­ues to be at the fore­front of eq­uity, safety and so­cial jus­tice na­tion­ally,” the gov­er­nor’s of­fice said. Her salary re­mains $220,000 per year.

In late Septem­ber, the gov­er­nor’s of­fice said Hutchin­son would re­turn the cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions she’d re­ceived from the med­i­cal cannabis in­dus­try. Pritzker spokes­woman Jor­dan Abu­dayyeh said in an email that has hap­pened.

“The funds were re­turned to the donors,” Abu­dayyeh said.

The state is now out to hire a new Illi­nois cannabis reg­u­la­tion over­sight of­fi­cer. The salary is not spec­i­fied but will “be de­ter­mined by the can­di­date’s back­ground and ex­pe­ri­ence,” the gov­er­nor’s of­fice said in a state­ment.

The over­sight of­fi­cer job will be housed within the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Financial and Pro­fes­sional Reg­u­la­tion, and will re­port to the depart­ment di­rec­tor, as well as the se­nior ad­viser to the gov­er­nor on cannabis con­trol, ac­cord­ing to the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

The law al­lows the over­sight of­fi­cer to have a staff of up to five, gives the au­thor­ity to make pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions, and tasks them with col­lect­ing data on the cannabis in­dus­try, over­see­ing co­or­di­na­tion of ef­forts among the in­volved state agen­cies and pro­mot­ing “best prac­tices for en­sur­ing di­ver­sity.”

AN­TO­NIO PEREZ/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Then-state Sen. Toi Hutchin­son speaks in June be­fore Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana in Illi­nois.

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