Today marks the second Earth Day for the adult-use cannabis market in Illinois. The industry is in a position of influence to help us all understand what it takes to be mindful about balancing costs for consumers with conservation and sustainability priorities.
With 21 existing cultivation centers, the state has taken the approach to ensure this cash crop leads the way toward earth-friendly industrial agriculture. Regulation for the best growing environments, however, has some tradeoffs, and there are barriers to environmental entrepreneurship that intersect with equity. What is clear is that MSOs like Cresco Labs and groups like the Illinois Environmental Council are each doing their part to create an equitable and environmentally conscious industry.
We listen and share with Cary Shepherd, former policy director for the Illinois Environmental Council, and Jason Nelson, senior vice president of horticulture at Cresco Labs, to learn a little bit about how Illinois legislation got to be so green—and what it all means for a budding industry in these challenging times.
Mila Marshall: The Illinois Environmental Council represents more than 90 environmental organizations across the state. Cary, can you share a little bit about how the IEC came about to working on the recommendations for the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act?
Cary Shepherd: We worked with the University of Chicago Abrams Environmental Law Clinic to do a policy and law review on sustainable cannabis growth to help us draft language that was reflective of the priorities and concerns of the network. The focus of the bill was not on the environmental, which isn’t a bad thing—Illinois’ bill was a criminal justice reform bill—but we were able to work with IEC members to create legislation that protects the environment very similarly to how other agricultural industries are held accountable, for example.
MM: Some people may feel some apprehensive about the additional environmental legislation in H.B. 1438. It seems as though the environment and the economy are always pitted against each other. What were the actual concerns from the environmental community? Why were these elements necessary to include?
CS: Many from the community were concerned with water, energy and waste from cannabis, but most people understood that criminal justice reform and social equity was the primary issue. The environmental community wanted to ensure that this new industry wasn’t creating any unnecessary environmental harms.
MM: Typically, draft regulations from our state agencies are open to the public and we are allowed to weigh in. What was the process for the environmental regulations and what state agency was responsible for engaging on those parts of the bill?
CS: The Department of Agriculture had a tight timeline for the environmental regulations for H.B. 1438. Typically, there is an opportunity for the public to weigh in and comment; however, the public commenting was suspended.
MM: Cresco Labs operates 13 cultivation centers in seven different states with three of those centers are located in Illinois. The company also has a robust social equity agenda. What are your thoughts about