A last-minute decision by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn to delay issuing medical marijuana licenses to growers and dispensaries is drawing fire from key supporters of the legislation.
Sandy Champion was one of many Illinoisans who found themselves fuming at the news Monday morning because it means she may have to get marijuana through other means in order to help her husband, Jim Campion, who has painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
The delay is especially stinging for Jim Champion, 48, of DeKalb County, because the Quinn administration showcased the Army veteran and his struggle with multiple sclerosis in their efforts to pass medical marijuana legislation — and even named him to a state medical marijuana advisory board Monday.
“I was the veteran Quinn had speak at the bill-signing ceremony. I received the very first pen used to sign the bill,” Champion, who was the state’s first patient eligible to receive medical marijuana, said with a laugh. “I’ve worked on getting this bill passed for about seven years and I’ve always tried to keep a positive face when there were hurdles and reporters would call me for comment, but this time you can quote me, I’m thoroughly disgusted by Governor Quinn’s inaction.”
Sandy Champion on Monday tried to call incoming Governor Bruce Rauner’s office to complain.
“I was told, ‘Call back in two hours, he’s not governor yet,’ ” she said.
On Monday, State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, the lead sponsor of medical marijuana in Illinois, called Quinn a “failure” for leaving office without approving licensing to grow and distribute the substance in Illinois.
He called Quinn’s decision an outright failure to patients and sick people across Illinois.
“The failure is not from the state agencies. State agencies worked their butts off to make this happen. The failure needs to go where the buck stops, at the governor’s office,” Lang said. “I have been a big supporter of Gov. Quinn and this is a failure.”
Lang said he plans to work with the Bruce Rauner administration to move the issue forward.
State Senate President John Cullerton wasn’t happy about Quinn’s inaction, either.
“I think there are people in our caucus that were very disappointed, because people who passed the bill were people concerned about people with young children who have epilepsy,” Cullerton said.
But not everyone is complaining about Quinn’s decision.
“We think that holding up the process until the state is positive they’re ready to go with it is a good thing,” said Laimutis Nargelenas, manager of governmental relations for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. Nargelenas questioned the secrecy around the licensing process. “In Illinois, needless to say, we’ve had problems with some of these things in the past.”
A Quinn spokesman issued this statement Monday morning: “The Governor believes we must get relief to those who need it as soon as possible, but it has to be done right in a fair and careful way. It shouldn’t be rushed out last minute. 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.”
When asked about the medical marijuana program Monday, a Rauner spokesman replied simply in an email: “It’s under review.” During his campaign, Rauner said he did not support medical marijuana and noted he was focused on other priorities. “It’s not a big issue for me either way,” he said in November.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed first reported that Quinn would not issue the licenses.
Kurt Florian, president and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, said patients seeking relief from marijuana across the state were disheartened. “To do a 180 like this and not come through, it’s very disappointing,” he said. “We’re hopeful Gov. Rauner will have his transition team look at this as quickly as possible so the delay isn’t any longer than it needs to be.”
Contributing: Natasha Korecki, Tina Sfondeles