‘Very Cavallari’ castmate, Skinny Pop co-founder among those who just won weed licenses in Illinois
An entrepreneur who sold her snack brand for over a billion dollars.
A Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.
A regular on Kristin Cavallari’s reality television show.
A businessman who sold the state millions of dollars worth of ventilators as the pandemic raged.
The former police chief in suburban Harvey and at least two other ex-cops.
These are just some of the latest winners of the next round of lucrative licenses for pot-related businesses.
On Monday, the Illinois Department of Agriculture published the winners of 79 licenses to grow, infuse and transport marijuana products. Another 134 companies nabbed licenses but are still finalizing the process.
State officials touted that 67% of the winners identify as nonwhite and 83% qualified for social equity status, the designation created to bolster minority participation in the lily-white weed industry.
Still, some clouted and well-capitalized firms were able to clean up, including:
• Pamela Netzky, the co-founder of Skinny Pop popcorn, is partnered in MMXX Ventures LLC, which earned an infusion license. Netzky, a graduate of the tony Latin School in the Gold Coast, sold Skinny Pop’s parent company to the candy maker Hershey in 2017 for $1.6 billion.
Netzky didn’t respond to a request for comment. Her partner, Douglas Dunlay, a co-owner of 4 Star Restaurant Group, said that the group has two Latino partners, one of whom earned social equity status. He declined further comment.
• Dr. Gary Motykie, a plastic surgeon with offices in Barrington and Beverly Hills, also grabbed an infusion license, along with his partner in Seven Leaves LLC. He didn’t respond to written questions.
• Stephanie Biegel, founder of the livestream platform Key, earned a coveted craft cultivation license. She’s listed as the only registered manager of the winning firm, CannEquality LLC, according to records kept by the Illinois secretary of state’s office.
Biegel is perhaps best known for her friendship with Kristin Cavallari, the reality star and wife of much maligned former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Biegel was a fixture on Cavallari’s show, “Very Cavallari” on the E! Entertainment channel, and is seen in multiple episodes partying with the former celebrity couple in Nashville, Cabo San Lucas and elsewhere.
Reached by the Sun-Times Monday, Biegel hung up and didn’t respond to further requests for comment.
• Houston-based businessman David Lolis and his partners in Blue Violet Farms LLC were granted a transportation license. Lolis’ other company, Atomic Blue LLC, was a big winner in the state’s scramble to acquire equipment to handle the rising toll of the coronavirus pandemic. Last April, WBEZ reported the firm was at that point the largest beneficiary of that rush, pulling in $13 million for 200 ventilators.
“Obviously we’re very happy, very excited to have the opportunity to help the state,” Lolis said in a brief interview.
At least two former members of law enforcement earned licenses to transport weed:
• Vanguard Security Services LLC is led in part by Eddie Winters, a former state representative who was ousted as Harvey’s police chief last year. Winters, who also worked as a Chicago police officer for over two decades, acknowledged that he previously locked people up for transporting cannabis in his past life.
“The laws are changing,” he noted. “[With] law enforcement, we respond and our jobs are based on the law.”
• Montague Hall is listed as the sole manager of Global Security Transportation LLC, state records show. Hall previously served on the U.S. Coast Guard’s Special Operations Unit and worked for both the Harvey and the Waukegan police departments. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, GRI Holdings, a group with deep political and industry ties that has drawn the ire of social equity applicants, earned both a craft cultivations and an infuser license. The company’s registered managers include Phil Stefani, the connected owner of renowned restaurants; Thomas Wheeler Jr., a former Chicago police commander; and John Trotta, the Chicago Transit Authority’s former vice president of purchasing and warehousing.
The firm was shepherded through the application process by Green Rose Advisors, a related consultancy led by industry insider Ross Morreale, the brother-in-law of former state Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Chicago). Morreale most notably co-founded Ataraxia, a downstate cultivation site that’s now owned by the Chicago pot giant Verano Holdings.
The Green Rose team also includes former state Rep. Art Turner Jr. (D-Chicago); Democratic operative Larry Luster; Jay Stewart, a former director of the state agency that oversees dispensaries; Ashley Barry, the former director of operations for the Illinois House Republican Organization; and Wheeler.
GRI Holdings is also up for the maximum 10 pot shop licenses. The state already issued 55 of the upcoming dispensary licenses last week in the first of three scheduled lottery drawings.
Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for both GRI Holdings and Green Rose, wouldn’t comment on the pot startup’s ownership and didn’t respond to other questions from the Sun-Times.
In addition, Jeffrey Rehberger, the chief executive of the video gambling company Lucky Lincoln Gaming and a recent dispensary permit winner, also appears to have scored a cultivation license. The agriculture department listed a winner as Seventh Generations Illinois Farmers LLC, although that name isn’t included in state incorporation records. Seventh Generation Illinois Farmers LLC, a firm that lists Rehberger as a registered manager, does appear, though. Neither Rehberger nor state officials responded to a request to clarify the situation.
Other winners include Bobby Burns, a newly elected council member in Evanston who won a growing license, and some firms already tied to the cannabis industry. Burns didn’t respond to an interview request.