The marijuana seeds can soon be planted.
In a move that surprised advocates of the medical marijuana program, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration on Monday announced it would issue most of the coveted licenses to grow and sell the medical product.
The move came amid fears Rauner would take months to determine who should be awarded the new state licenses.
Patients and medical marijuana advocates lauded the governor for taking swift action on the licenses, allowing the medical marijuana program to gain momentum.
“The fact that Gov. Rauner didn’t sit on it forever, it shows class,” said Jim Champion, an Army veteran with multiple sclerosis who advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana.
The process fell to Rauner after his predecessor, former Gov. Pat Quinn, left office without announcing who could grow and sell Illinois pot.
Quinn did that despite his administration producing a list of businesses recommended to land the coveted licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, the Chicago Sun-Times first reported last week.
Monday’s decision to award 18 medical marijuana farming licenses and 52 selling licenses heartened business owners who had been on both lists, but it dismayed others who had spent thousands on the application process and weren’t selected.
The long-awaited announcement Monday was made by Rauner’s general counsel, Jason Barclay, who said issues were found during a review of the licensing process used by Quinn’s administration.
Quinn staffers have repeatedly said applications were subjected to a blind review process — without regard to applicants’ identities.
However, a review by Rauner’s team found state agencies conducted a “character and fitness review” once the blind scoring was complete.
Rauner’s staff also enlisted Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to help with its review. In the end, the governor’s staff decided Quinn’s approach could result in “costly litigation” and wouldn’t hold up in court, Barclay said.
On Monday, a spokesman for the former governor said Quinn’s administration didn’t issue licenses based on the preliminary list because the former governor “felt the process was incomplete” and needed more work before it was finalized.
“He refused to rush the licenses out the door and instead left the licensing decisions to the next administration, as was done with many contracting decisions at other state agencies,” the spokesman said in a statement.
But the Rauner administration’s list of license holders doesn’t differ significantly from the one left behind by Quinn.
Among the winners are a Quinn fundraiser, a former state bureaucrat and a retired Will County judge.
But some applications remain under review. And they include two from HealthCentral LLC.
The Quinn administration had appeared to disqualify HealthCentral, without explanation, in its bid for three downstate cultivation center licenses and two dispensary licenses in Springfield and Collinsville.
Quinn’s former chief of staff, Jack Lavin, served as HealthCentral’s lobbyist. And a company owned by a partner in HealthCentral was sued in Colorado for allegedly handing out marijuana-laced candy to unsuspecting Denver County fairgoers.
HealthCentral general counsel Matthew Hortenstine said Monday he was encouraged to see his company’s application would get another look from Rauner’s team.
“It looks to me like the Rauner administration is being fair-minded and taking an honest review of all these applications,” Hortenstine said.
“And that leads me to believe that we’re going to move forward in a positive way,” he said.
Rauner’s administration also is reviewing applications from strip club owner Perry Mandera and a company part-owned by Nicholas Vita, a former Goldman Sachs executive who faced lawsuits as he opened legal marijuana businesses in other states.
Mandera’s and Vita’s companies scored well on the Quinn administration’s list of recommended dispensaries. But someone wrote “hold” on that list beside their names. Again, no explanation was given.
As would-be marijuana growers and sellers figured out what to do next, advocates were ecstatic Monday.
Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who has championed the program, said, “I am gratified that the governor’s office has taken this step.”
It means the program can get rolling.
If seeds are planted now, Illinois marijuana could be available by summer, though that’s an optimistic timeline that doesn’t take bureaucracy and construction into account, said Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, a marijuana advocacy group.
For Champion, 48, of Somonauk, it means patients like him won’t have to go to the black market for a product that brings respite from pain and other symptoms.
He said, “Maybe we won’t have to wait forever.”