Medical Marijuana Mess Continues for Illinois

Documents released Monday by the Rauner administration indicate the medical marijuana program was rocked by indecision during Pat Quinn’s final days

Documents released Monday by the Rauner administration indicate the medical marijuana program was rocked by indecision during Pat Quinn’s final days, with officials alternately deciding to grant at least some of the licenses, or send the entire program unfinished to their successor.

In the end, no licenses were granted, and Rauner has indicated he is reviewing the entire program.

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show that as of January 5, applicants had been scored and ranked, and Quinn Administration officials had drafted a news release which detailed plans to grant licenses to at least 18 cultivation centers, and dozens of dispensaries. But within an hour, the dispensaries were dropped, with the director of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation was quoted in a new draft as saying, “IDFPR will work closely with the administration of Governor-elect Bruce Rauner to identify which applicants will be allowed to move to the next stage.”

Just a few hours later, that same day, another version of the release was prepared, advising that the entire process was being passed-off to the new administration.

“We have been aggressively working on implementation for the last year and agencies have completed their competitive scoring process, but the integrity of this program is paramount,” the Governor was quoted as saying. “In order to preserve the reputation of this program that will help thousands of people in Illinois, I have directed Statewide Project Coordinator Bob Morgan….to allow Governor Rauner’s team to decide the final licenses for the program.”

Six days later, a new version was prepared, with the cultivation licenses back in. And as late as inauguration eve, talking points had been prepared, defending the decision to issue some, but not all of the licenses.

But during the ensuing hours, a final decision was made to pull the plug, and punt the marijuana program to Quinn’s successor. An early morning email from Director Morgan to colleagues, citing a Sun-Times story, said simply, “I am so sorry. I was not made aware of this statement before it went out.”

“My guess is, if this isn’t resolved soon, there’s gonna be a mess of lawsuits,” said State Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who authored the medical cannabis bill. “Somebody won a license fair and square, they may decide to sue the state and say, ‘Where’s my license?’”

Others believe the state may have more breathing room. Attorney Lawrence Mishkin, who represents 5 dispensary applicants and two would-be growers, says he believes any legal action is premature.

“It’s not such good news, but tempered a little bit because nothing is final,” he said. “The concern is there is a certain amount of discretion that’s involved at this stage, and both governor Quinn and now Rauner are given the discretion to review the list, and make sure they are comfortable with the names.”

Indeed, the score sheets indicate who seems to be in the lead, and who the likely losers will be. But Mishkin notes, that also means the apparent winners will now be subjected to greater scrutiny.

“I think the program has proven to be much larger and unwieldy than they imagined it would be,” he said. But at the same time, he noted that many applicants can’t wait much longer for a final decision.

“My clients are people that pooled money together in an effort to try and get these licenses,” he said. “It’s an incredible amount of money that they’ve spent, money that’s sitting out there right now. They all have options on real estate that they’ve paid for, and are sitting out there ready to expire if we don’t get answers.”

Lang says he wants to meet with Rauner this week, to determine what exactly he believes his timing will be will.

“We need some finality,” he said. “And we need some direction from the governor’s office, as to what their intentions are.”

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