Former Department of Agriculture employee to lobby for medical marijuana program’s future in Illinois
A new group has formed to push for policies in Springfield favorable to the medical marijuana industry with a well-connected former Illinois Department of Agriculture employee as its top lobbyist. Bresha Brewer stopped being a state worker just ahead of new ethics rules imposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner that would have prevented her from immediately going into lobbying and becoming part of a “revolving door” of former state employees who leave to become lobbyists. Brewer is now executive director of the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, which launched this week.
With Brewer’s involvement, the group hopes to play an influential role as lawmakers determine whether medical marijuana has a future in Illinois.
The alliance represents 39 companies — the bulk of the businesses that hold state permits to grow and sell marijuana in a pilot program that expires after 2017. Extending the program’s end date, or preferably achieving its permanence, will be one of Brewer’s most urgent objectives.
As executive director, she brings fresh insider knowledge, nearly 15 years of state government experience and a long list of connections. Brewer has worked for several state agencies as a legislative liaison, most recently for the Agriculture Department, which regulates marijuana growers. Brewer will try to influence lawmakers, the governor’s office and her former agency on behalf of the industry, according to the alliance’s lobbying registration with the secretary of state.
Brewer’s new job doesn’t violate Rauner’s “revolving door” restrictions because she left state employment two weeks before the governor’s order took effect. In his first day in office, the Republican governor tightened rules preventing state employees from going directly into lobbying jobs, but the order didn’t go into effect until Feb. 15, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said. Brewer left state employment Jan. 31.
The Office of Executive Inspector General determined Brewer was not restricted by the Ethics Act from accepting the job, Trover noted. But her move still raises questions for some legislators. “There’s a reason Gov. Rauner closed the revolving door and lawmakers like myself applauded him for doing it administratively with an executive order,” said Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican who voted against the medical marijuana program and doesn’t want the sunset date changed. “It can drive policies the wrong way.”
Brewer made $83,000 with the Department of Agriculture in 2014, according to state records. The Medical Cannabis Alliance would not release Brewer’s salary information. Besides pushing to make the pilot program permanent, the alliance will lobby for eliminating fingerprint background checks for patients, which the industry sees as an obstacle that is keeping patient numbers low, spokeswoman Kim Morreale McAuliffe said. The group will do more than lobbying and will undertake public education about medical marijuana throughout Illinois, she said.