An unusual legal case brewing in central Illinois poses a provocative question: Should a nonprofit organization that's exempt from federal taxes be allowed to grow medical marijuana, in violation of federal law?
An attorney is seeking a judge's permission to file a lawsuit against Shelby County Community Services, a Shelbyville nonprofit that provides drug addiction counseling and runs a mental health clinic. The nonprofit recently won a license to grow marijuana in Illinois' new medical cannabis program.
"Shelby County Community Services was never legally able to have a medical cannabis license at the time they applied," said attorney Sean Britton, who filed the petition Friday in Coles County Circuit Court.
The petition claims the nonprofit has federal tax-exempt status, which should bar it from breaking federal law. Friday's court filing is a required preliminary step before a lawsuit can be filed, Britton said. The court is expected to decide later this month whether the lawsuit can be filed.
Britton represents Shiloh Agronomics, a for-profit business that lost out in the competition for a marijuana cultivation license in Illinois State Police District 10.
"We feel they would have had a shot at that license" if the nonprofit group hadn't won, Britton said.
Shiloh Agronomics was formed by the owners of an Edgar County family farm that's been in operation for more than a century, according to the court filing. The owners applied to grow marijuana in Edgar County.
A phone message left Saturday for Shelby County Community Services' executive director Tom Colclasure wasn't immediately returned. The nonprofit provides mental health services, including counseling for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, according to its website.
Colclasure told the Chicago Tribune he doesn't see a contradiction in growing medical marijuana and providing addiction counseling. Growing marijuana would provide jobs and help the nonprofit deal with declining state government funding, he told the newspaper.