4 marijuana-related companies run ‘Chicago cartel,’ federal lawsuit alleges

A group calling itself True Social Equity in Cannabis sued three marijuana multistate operators and an ancillary company in Illinois federal court, claiming the four constitute a “Chicago cartel” linked by the wealthy Pritzker, Wrigley and Kovler families.

The nine-page lawsuit was filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries and Verano Holdings as well as Atlanta-headquartered Surterra Holdings (now Parallel) and Denver-based Akerna, which provides technology services to the cannabis industry.

The suit claims that the companies have some overlapping management and directorships and have violated federal antitrust laws by sharing price information and charging “monopolist” prices.

J.B. Pritzker is the governor of Illinois, William “Beau” Wrigley Jr. is a former CEO of Parallel, and Ben Kovler is the founder and CEO of Green Thumb.

The Pritzker family is known for business interests including the Hyatt Hotels, Wrigley as the chewing gum company heir, and the Kovler family for business and philanthropic interests.

“The ‘Chicago Cartel’ has successfully monopolized the Illinois branded marijuana market,” the suit alleges.

The suit claims Akerna is “key to this information sharing about supply, demand and price.” Akerna also is characterized as a company seeking marijuana licenses in the market.

Green Thumb, Verano and Parallel didn’t immediately respond for comment.

Georgia Jablon, Akerna’s communications manager, told MJBizDaily via email that the company will be filing a motion for the suit to be dismissed.

“The document has multiple inaccuracies, including but not limited to the fact that we are not a plant-touching operator,” Jablon wrote. “As a public company, our shareholders and board of directors are a matter of public record.”

True Social Equity in Cannabis characterizes itself as a group fighting marijuana monopolies and said in the suit that it consists of consumers, workers, entrepreneurs in hemp-related ventures and competitors or potential competitors.

The group is requesting that the court bar the defendants from marketing, selling, licensing, distributing and growing marijuana in Illinois or the United States.

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Delays and litigation over equity licensing have been a hot topic in Illinois, and existing medical cannabis operators got a huge head start in the now nearly $2 billion recreational marijuana industry.

But a number of other MSOs and marijuana companies also operate in the Illinois market in addition to Green Thumb, Parallel and Verano.