Former Gov. Pat Quinn left behind a list of businesses poised to land the coveted licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana when his term ended this month, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
His administration was still working to push through the licenses as the media headed to Springfield to witness Gov. Bruce Rauner’s inauguration.
The evening before Rauner took office, Quinn’s staff was still passing around electronic drafts of a press release that would have announced the awarding of 12 cultivation center licenses.
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But Quinn left office without taking action — disappointing seriously ill people waiting to legally use marijuana and angering applicants who had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking the state’s permission to get into the legal marijuana business.
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office released the documents from the prior administration Sunday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They list the companies recommended by the Department of Agriculture to operate 21 medical marijuana farms and those recommended by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to operate 56 medical marijuana dispensaries.
Rauner isn’t ready to act on those recommendations, though.
A spokesman said in a statement: “The governor’s office will conduct a thorough legal review of the process used by the Quinn administration and refer our findings to the Attorney General’s office. No licenses will be granted until this process is thoroughly reviewed.”
A Quinn administration official also released a statement Sunday night:
“As the Quinn administration made clear from the beginning, while the state agencies responsible for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program had made substantial progress toward evaluating applicants for the cultivation centers and dispensaries, the governor decided to turn this important licensing responsibility over to the next administration for proper review,” it said.
Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who championed the medical marijuana program, said Sunday he doesn’t care who gets the licenses as long as it happens soon.
“I don’t know who those winners are and I could care less,” he said. “I want these licenses released so patients can begin to get the product.”
Even though medical marijuana is legal in Illinois, those suffering from cancer, epilepsy and other serious illnesses cannot legally use it until it’s grown and sold here.
The applications went through a blind scoring process. But the records obtained show it wasn’t that straightforward.
The documents show that companies the Sun-Times has previously written about were either disqualified as dispensary applicants or put on “hold,” but no explanation was given.
Among those was HealthCentral, which had applied to the state for three downstate cultivation center licenses and two dispensary licenses, in Springfield and Collinsville.
A former Quinn chief of staff, Jack Lavin, served as the company’s lobbyist and a company owned by a partner in HealthCentral had been sued in Colorado for allegedly handing out marijuana-laced candy to unsuspecting Denver County fair goers.
And in the list of applicants recommended for dispensary licenses based on a supposedly blind scoring process, HealthCentral is ranked one and two. But their entry is highlighted in red and noted as disqualified, the records show.
Matthew Hortenstine, the attorney for HealthCentral and one of the partners, said he was “at a loss” when he learned his company was labeled “disqualified” on the list of applicants for medical marijuana dispensaries, even though it had the top rank in one of the districts in which it applied. He said he thought HealthCentral “followed the rules.”
Hortenstine said it would be “unfair” if Lavin’s work was the reason for the company’s disqualification. He pointed out that applicants were supposed to be scored blindly — and without regard to its consultants or affiliates.
“And that’s fair,” Hortenstine said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Everybody treated equally and on the same playing field. … If there was something going on where, you know, people were, you know, scored No. 1 but didn’t get the license, that’s a problem. That’s not fair to anybody.”
Strip club owner Perry Mandera also scored well on the government list of dispensary applicants. His West Loop dispensary was recommended for a license. But someone wrote “hold” and noted Mandera’s name.
That same “hold” notation is marked for the high-scoring company part-owned by Nicholas Vita, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opened legal marijuana businesses in other states, but has faced lawsuits along the way.
The dispensary list does not indicate why HealthCentral was disqualified or why Mandera and Vita were singled out.