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Illinois medical marijuana delays grow in messy governor handoff

New information on the status of the state's business licensing could trigger lawsuits, say patient advocates and the lawmaker who sponsored the MMJ legislation.

By Carla K. Johnson, Associated Press| PUBLISHED: JAN 27, 2015, 10:15 AM

CHICAGO — Former Gov. Pat Quinn’s aides prepared lists of businesses that were to receive lucrative medical marijuana licenses in Illinois, but he did not act to issue them before leaving office, prolonging the wait for patients seeking relief, newly released documents show.

On the eve of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s inauguration this month, just hours before Quinn would leave office, the Chicago Democrat’s administration still was making changes to the lists as it drafted news releases that never were sent, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

One version announced licenses would be awarded to 18 top-scoring marijuana cultivation businesses. Another version pared the list to 12 license-winners. The documents provide no explanation for the shortened list or why Quinn, who had promised to issue the licenses by the end of 2014, instead left the matter for Rauner to decide.

Two weeks earlier, Bob Morgan, the state's medical marijuana program coordinator, was pushing the administration to award the licenses, writing in an email to a Quinn spokesman: "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 sayin …"

When Quinn left office, his administration publicly said the agencies in charge of evaluating applications still had more work to do. But the emails and other documents show the agencies were ready to award many of the licenses, having evaluated and identified as top scorers 18 businesses to grow medical marijuana and 56 retailers to sell it.

The new information could trigger lawsuits, said patient advocates and the lawmaker who sponsored the legislation that created Illinois’ medical marijuana pilot program.

"The scoring system should have played out and those with the highest number of points in each area should have won,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, questioning why the Rauner administration released the documents before granting the business licenses. “This creates fodder for litigation. And there will be litigation."

Some dispensary applicants with known political ties or other complications 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 noted the man’s name.

Another applicant, Health Central LLC, had hired former Quinn chief of staff Jack Lavin to lobby for medical marijuana licenses. The documents show the company was a top scorer in the evaluation for two dispensary licenses, but was marked red and “disqualified” without stating why.

A spokesman for the former governor, George Sweeney, said Monday in an emailed statement that the Quinn administration had made “substantial progress” in evaluating the applications, but more work was necessary.

"The governor decided to turn this important licensing responsibility over to the next administration for proper review," Sweeney said.

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