Pritzker Names New Cannabis Chief

Erin Johnson takes the helm for the state's cannabis agency.

This story was republished with approval from Crain’s Chicago Business and written by John Pletz

Erin Johnson, a lawyer for Amazon and state government veteran, has been named the state’s top cannabis regulator.

Erin Johnson, Illinois cannabis regulation oversight officer
Erin Johnson, Illinois cannabis regulation oversight officer

Johnson is an associate general counsel for Amazon Web Services but was chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice in the Pritzker administration from 2019 to mid-2021. Previously she was associate general counsel and chief diversity officer from 2016 to 2018 for then-Gov. Bruce Rauner.

She replaces Danielle Perry, who left the job as cannabis regulation oversight officer in May.

“From serving as the chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to working as associate general counsel and chief diversity officer, Erin has the experience, education and expertise to thrive in this role while advancing cannabis equity throughout Illinois,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement.

Johnson comes to the job at a critical time, as the Pritzker administration tries to make good on its promise of diversifying the ownership of the marijuana business in Illinois. After two years of delays, the state recently awarded 192 licenses for new dispensaries. So far, two of them have opened. The first of 88 new cultivation companies also are just getting launched.

The centerpiece of Illinois’ plan to legalize recreational marijuana was social equity, prioritizing applicants from neighborhoods hit hard by the war on drugs and those who have arrests or convictions for minor marijuana possession.

But the process has been slowed by bureaucracy, the pandemic and litigation. Licenses were awarded just as marijuana sales have been hurt by inflation and funding for cannabis companies has grown more expensive and difficult to come by.

Johnson must grapple with an unwieldy regulatory setup that involves more than a dozen agencies. The Department of Agriculture oversees pot growers, while the Department of Financial & Professional Regulation licenses retailers. Other players include the Department of Revenue, state police and the Department of Public Health. Critics have called for legislators to create a single agency to regulate the industry.

“The Cannabis Business Association of Illinois is delighted to learn the position has finally been filled,” said Pamela Althoff, president of the trade group representing marijuana companies. “We look forward to continuing the positive working relationship that we’ve had with former adviser Toi Hutichinson and CROO Danielle Perry.”

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