Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn received recommendations on which businesses should receive lucrative medical marijuana licenses but he did not act on them before leaving office this month, newly released documents show.
Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration released the material to news organizations Sunday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Quinn administration had said it would issue the licenses by the end of 2014, but the Chicago Democrat did not act before the Republican from Winnetka succeeded him, instead saying that agencies in charge of evaluating applications still had more work to do.
The emails and other documents show the agencies had made recommendations to Quinn and were ready to at least award most of the licenses, having evaluated, scored and recommended 18 businesses to grow medical marijuana and 56 retailers to sell it.
The AP emailed a request for comment to a spokeswoman for the former governor, but there was no immediate response. A Quinn administration official told the Chicago Sun-Times in a statement: "As the Quinn administration made clear from the beginning, while the state agencies responsible for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program had made substantial progress toward evaluating applicants for the cultivation centers and dispensaries, the governor decided to turn this important licensing responsibility over to the next administration for proper review."
Some businesses with known political ties or rules violations had high scores but were disqualified or put on hold at some point in the process. For example, one dispensary application from a strip club owner in Chicago was marked "hold" and the man's name.
A draft of an unsent news release was prepared by the medical marijuana program director and sent to a Quinn spokesman. It listed 18 top scorers for cultivation center licenses and announced them as having been awarded licenses. That release also noted that two licenses in Cook County and one in a region encompassing Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties wouldn't be awarded and the selection process would continue in those regions.
Emails released by the Rauner administration also show:
- Medical marijuana program coordinator Bob Morgan was pushing the Quinn administration to act to award business licenses in the two weeks Quinn had left, writing in an email to Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman: "I know we can't do it at this point, but would be great if we can say — we will have it done by next week. Just saying ..."
- With one week left in Quinn's tenure, Morgan prepared three drafts of news releases for the governor's office. One announced the cultivation center licenses and named the winners and another announced "preliminary cultivation centers and dispensaries." A third version said the agencies "have completed their competitive scoring process," but that Quinn would "allow Governor-elect Rauner's team to decide the final licenses for the program." None of those news releases were sent.
- With just days left in office, Klinzman asked Morgan if the version of the news release announcing the cultivation center licenses was "still accurate." It was never sent, either.
- In the hours before Rauner's inauguration, the Quinn administration told reporters: "The agencies in charge of awarding these licenses have already completed most of the work in full accordance with the law, and the new administration will now administer the rest."