NILES, Mich. — For many years, Mike Noonan was the consummate Illinois political insider. He aggressively labored on Democratic campaigns in all kinds of communities and was a giant participant within the behind-the-scenes jostling over laws on the state Capitol.
However a corruption scandal ended Madigan’s lengthy reign final yr. And since then, Noonan has left Illinois fully.
Final summer time, Noonan started what he hopes will probably be a mellower, second profession as an proprietor of an natural marijuana farm and authorized “ganjier” on this small metropolis in southwest Michigan.
Noonan, 54, says he’s achieved with politics in Illinois and is dedicating himself to combating for “the craft weed revolution” in his new residence on the opposite aspect of Lake Michigan.
“Life has actually transitioned, and all for the higher,” Noonan says, carrying a smock within the retail store of his Southland Farms in Niles, Mich., about 100 miles from Chicago.
Noonan refers back to the store at Southland Farms as a “budtique” — reflecting the enterprise’ goal of offering an upscale expertise and “high quality weed” for hashish customers.
Subsequent to the money register on the entrance of the shop, Noonan proudly shows the certificates he earned as a ganjier — a licensed connoisseur of high quality weed. He handed a course in northern California to develop into one among what are fewer than 200 ganjiers on the planet, skilled to information hashish customers a lot as a sommelier advises wine drinkers.
Though he was not personally implicated within the Illinois corruption scandal, the native of Chicago’s south suburbs says he felt it was the precise time for him to go away the political scene.
“Let’s be sincere,” he mentioned. “Perhaps I wasn’t one of the best at figuring out the individuals who shouldn’t be in politics, as a result of clearly, I nonetheless like and take care of loads of people who at the moment are seen as scoundrels.
“For me, it was time to maneuver on. As a result of I had completed rather a lot, and I felt good about what I had achieved.”
Noonan started as a staffer for Madigan in 1994 and managed state legislative campaigns for his allies and others within the Illinois Democratic Get together. He got here to wider prominence 20 years in the past by managing the primary marketing campaign for Illinois legal professional basic of the boss’ daughter, Lisa Madigan.
Noonan relished popping up outdoors her Republican rival’s information conferences to supply instantaneous rebuttals for reporters. He was so good at it that rivals griped about “getting Noonan-ed.”
Even earlier than going into politics, Noonan says he had a deep appreciation for marijuana — utilizing it since 1986, when it was nonetheless unlawful.
He says Madigan grew to become conscious of his weed behavior in 1996, when a competitor in politics reported him. He thought it might value him his job however recalled his supervisor within the Madigan group telling him he wouldn’t be fired.
“I had been a hard-working man, and I feel, extra importantly, I had been profitable for them,” Noonan says. “And so the reprimand that I acquired from my boss on the time was, ‘You’ve been reported. It doesn’t appear to be affecting your work in any respect. See you tomorrow.’”
Noonan additionally believes Madigan gave him a move as a result of he understood that, “No person is only one factor. And other people could be good, and they are often dangerous.” A lawyer for Madigan declined to touch upon Noonan’s recollection of that incident.
ComEd scandal rocks Springfield
After serving to Lisa Madigan win statewide workplace, Noonan grew to become a lobbyist in Springfield for largely company shoppers.
Among the many firms he represented within the Illinois Capitol was Commonwealth Edison. The giant power utility admitted in 2020 it had employed Madigan allies as consultants and paid them for little or no work to curry favor with the speaker, who helped move laws that padded ComEd’s income dramatically.
Madigan resigned final yr and has been indicted within the scandal, however he has denied any wrongdoing and his case is pending in federal courtroom.
Based on federal courtroom information and sources, Noonan’s then-business associate Victor Reyes received a contract for his legislation agency with ComEd, allegedly as a part of the electrical firm’s efforts to please Madigan. Reyes has not been charged with against the law, and Noonan says he had nothing to do with Reyes’ legislation agency.
The scenario hurt business for the Roosevelt Group, the lobbying and public-relations enterprise Noonan owned with Reyes in downtown Chicago. Noonan says he bought his stake within the Roosevelt Group, and information present he canceled his registration as a lobbyist in Illinois in July 2021.
“I used to be related to lots of people who aren’t in politics any longer, a lot of them as a result of the federal authorities determined they shouldn’t be in politics any longer,” he mentioned.
At that time, he mentioned he determined, “I would like one other act.”
A brand new profession within the weed enterprise
Noonan says he’s now one of many little guys attempting to offer a classier, higher-quality various to the merchandise provided by large marijuana pursuits.
The whole lot in his retailer in Michigan is grown on web site, from seed. Behind the budtique, Southland Farms has 5 climate-controlled rooms stuffed with dozens of extremely pungent, leafy marijuana crops. All of the merchandise are processed on the premises and bought completely there.
To develop into a ganjier, he underwent six months of on-line coaching, three days of in-person lessons and a day-long examination in Humboldt County, Calif., in July. That very same month, Southland Farms opened its door.
In Noonan’s workplace, there’s only a single reminder of his 25 years in politics: a “24 hours to victory” signal from an election-eve rally for Todd Stroger’s marketing campaign for Prepare dinner County Board president in 2006. Stroger received narrowly, after then-U.S. senator named Barack Obama appeared on the rally.
Noonan says the signal reminds him to “simply hold combating ‘until the tip” — and to not hesitate to ask for assist from pals in instances of want.
Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Authorities & Politics Group.