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Pot czar reacts as Quinn fails to issue licenses: 'I am so sorry'

Hours before Gov. Bruce Rauner took the oath of office this month, his predecessor’s staff was preparing to announce 12 businesses had won licenses to grow medical marijuana in Illinois, records show.

But former Gov. Pat Quinn never made that announcement. And the man in charge of Illinois’ medical marijuana pilot program seemed just as surprised as anyone when Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported on inauguration day that Quinn would not award the coveted licenses before leaving office.

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“I am so sorry,” Bob Morgan, general counsel to the Illinois Department of Public Health, wrote in a Jan. 12 email to his colleagues about the Sneed column. “I was not made aware of this statement before it went out.”

Records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show Quinn received a list of recommended companies from the Department of Agriculture to operate 21 medical marijuana farms, and from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to operate 56 medical marijuana dispensaries.

Quinn’s failure to issue those licenses disappointed seriously ill people who are still waiting to legally use marijuana. He also angered applicants who had spent millions of dollars in total seeking the state’s permission to get into the legal marijuana business.

But the night before Rauner’s inauguration, Morgan helped Quinn’s staff draft a news release naming 12 businesses that would land medical marijuana cultivation center licenses, according to emails obtained by the Sun-Times.

Those companies were Progressive Treatment Solutions LLC, Pharmacann LLC, GTI Clinic Holdings LLC, Shelby County Community Services Inc., Flora Grow LLC, IESO LLC, Natures Grace and Wellness LLC, In Grown Farms LLC 2, Compass Ventures Inc., Ataraxia LLC, ACE Barry LLC and Cresco Labs LLC.

The news release also would have named the members of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board. But it would not have announced licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries — which Quinn also had been expected to award before leaving office.

Instead, Quinn’s staff appeared to pass around talking points concerning a “partial announcement.” One email provides answers to questions like “why the cultivation centers and not the dispensaries?” and “was this done to ensure Gov. Rauner continues with the program?”

Another asked “has the Rauner team asked the department to hold off on this announcement?”

The provided answer: “No. (True, right?)”

Shortly before 7 p.m. on Jan. 11, Morgan wrote in an email that, “I’m now hearing we may be again just doing advisory board and not cultivation centers. We will need a statement ready for that too. . . . ”

But it wasn’t until 10:53 a.m. on Jan. 12 that Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman confirmed that Sneed’s report was accurate — Quinn wouldn’t award the licenses.

“The governor believes we must get relief to those who need it as soon as possible,” Klinzman wrote, “but it has to be done right in a fair and careful way. It shouldn’t be rushed out last minute.”

I am so sorry

Draft of talking points on medical marijuana