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Secretary of State’s office probing Van Pelt’s pot-related endeavors

In a promotional video advertising her online cannabis investment workshops, state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt assured those who would attend that she wants to “help some people get rich.”

The video, posted online in January, shows Van Pelt talking to a crowd about the prospect of becoming “marijuana millionaires” and says her knowledge of the industry will help people invest in it and make money.

Less than four months later, those seminars and another cannabis-related business Van Pelt is involved with are being investigated by the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, a source confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times.

It’s unclear exactly why the investigation was launched. But as Van Pelt was marketing the investment seminars and leading a company that intends to obtain licenses to grow and sell marijuana in the state, she also was named as co-sponsor of a bill to legalize the drug statewide.

After Van Pelt’s investments in cannabis-related businesses were made public last week in a report by WCIA in Champaign, the Chicago Democrat swiftly removed herself as a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 7, the measure that would lift Illinois’ prohibition on recreational weed. She had been listed as a co-sponsor for just over a week.

In an interview, Van Pelt downplayed her role in shaping the bill and said she removed herself because she didn’t want to become a “lightning rod” for criticism of the legalization effort.

“I had no role in drafting the language of the bill, have not been involved in any negotiations and will not be part of the rule-making process,” Van Pelt added in a statement sent later on.

In addition to charging nearly $100 to watch her online cannabis investment seminars, Van Pelt also serves as the president of WaKanna For Life. The multilevel marketing company — which currently sells CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical compound found in marijuana — ultimately aims to win licenses to grow and sell pot, according to company CEO Melissa Boston-Atoyebi.

On April 20, considered a holiday among pro-pot advocates, Van Pelt and her co-investors sold tickets to a seminar they held on the cannabis industry at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville.

Van Pelt also runs Chicago CBD Store, which sells CBD products.

None of these endeavors were included in her most recent statement of economic interest on April 30, which was filed by lawmakers and state employees. However, the state only requires disclosure if her ownership interest in a business was worth more than $5,000 or if she earned more than $1,200 in dividends during the previous 12 months.

State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (left) and the other founders of WaKanna For Life. State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (left) and the other founders of WaKanna For Life.Patricia Van Pelt/Facebook

On Tuesday, a source at the secretary of state’s office confirmed a report by Capitol Fax that the agency’s securities division is investigating Van Pelt’s seminars and her work for Wakanna. Van Pelt said the agency hasn’t reached out to her, her office or Wakanna.

A spokesman for the secretary of state’s office declined to comment or confirm the investigation, citing a policy that restricts employees from discussing matters related to the securities division.

The source said Secretary of State Jesse White, Van Pelt’s longtime political ally, wouldn’t be involved in the probe.

In addition to endorsing Van Pelt as a candidate for the Illinois Senate, White was also recruited by Van Pelt to invest in 5Linx, another multilevel marketing company she previously worked for. In 2016, a spokesman for White told the Better Government Association that he made an initial investment of $249 to join the company but was unimpressed with its products and decided to disassociate himself from it.

The three co-founders of 5Linx were later convicted of federal charges after admitting to defrauding investors out of more than $2 million. Van Pelt, who rose to the position of senior vice president at the company, wasn’t charged in connection with the fraud scheme.

While Van Pelt told the Sun-Times that she wouldn’t be involved in shaping the legalization bill, she has not committed to abstaining from votes on the measure.

“This is work that I do outside my role as state senator like any of my colleagues who practice law, are doctors or engage in other professions,” Van Pelt said. “I can’t see how the courses that I offer as a business or training people on how to invest in stock, is a conflict. If I see a conflict, I would follow the lead of the lawyers that are in the Legislature, I will recuse myself.”

Fellow Democrats said Van Pelt had no involvement in crafting the legislation.

Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said Van Pelt wasn’t involved in any negotiations with the governor’s office. Abudayyeh noted that Pritzker “believes lawmakers should follow ethical guidelines set forth by their chamber” and that he would consider tacking on ethical restrictions to the bill “to prevent conflicts of interest in the industry.”

Another Chicago Democrat who helped craft the bill, state Sen. Heather Steans, said she wasn’t aware of Van Pelt’s cannabis-related work and hadn’t been in a single meeting with her in which the bill was discussed.

State Rep. Heather Steans (right) and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy were two of the key architects of the cannabis legalization bill.Sun-Times file photo

“We’re having our attorneys take a look,” Steans said. “I believe strongly in doing stuff ethically the right way, so we’re gonna take a look and see what we should be including in the bill on this.”

Illinois Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope and Laurie Eby, executive director of the Legislative Ethics Commission, declined to comment on the matter, citing confidentiality rules.

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Wakanna has laid out plans to expand into a full-scale cannabis operation over the next six years, according to Boston-Atoyebi and the company’s website.

“By 2025 [Wakanna] will operate as a full-service cannabis company that expands from wholesaling and retailing micro-dispensaries to farming and manufacturing,” the site says.

Boston-Atoyebi would not offer further details about the company’s potential expansion, telling the Sun-Times that the plan “is part of our business model and that’s proprietary.”

State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (second from left) is pictured in signs promoting WaKanna and the 420 Conference, which was held this year on marijuana’s high holiday of April 20.Patricia Van Pelt/Facebook Read More



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