Who wanted to grow and sell medical marijuana? A fundraiser, a bureaucrat and a judge
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One raised cash for former Gov. Pat Quinn.
Another ran the state’s department of agriculture for Quinn and his predecessor.
And a third is a retired judge who ended his judicial career as the chief of Will County’s felony division.
All three might have had a chance to legally grow or sell medical marijuana in Illinois had the former governor followed through on recommendations for awarding the coveted licenses before he left office.
Instead, records show Quinn left behind a list of companies recommended by the Department of Agriculture to operate 21 medical marijuana farms and by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to run 56 medical marijuana dispensaries. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office released the records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Quinn administration officials have said the former governor wanted to get relief to patients waiting to use the drug, but also wanted it done right and “in a fair and careful way” that shouldn’t be rushed at the last minute.
They’ve also stressed the applications went through a blind scoring process. But among those recommended to receive one of the coveted licenses was a company listing Keith McGinnis of Ottawa as a managing member.
McGinnis held a fundraiser at his home for the former governor in August.
The next month, McGinnis’ firm, In Grown Farms LLC, applied for a license to grow medical marijuana in Stephenson County, records show.
And staffers in the Quinn administration had recommended In Grown receive the license, records obtained by the Sun-Times show.
McGinnis himself contributed $1,500 to Quinn last year, records show. He also contributed $250 in December to Rep. Lou Lang’s campaign fund. Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, has championed the medical marijuana program.
McGinnis said he doesn’t believe the fundraiser had any influence on his successful application.
“The only way you can win this is by writing the best application,” he said.
His company applied in other districts for licenses but was not recommended for the license, he said
Another company that may have been allowed to grow medical marijuana is Ieso LLC, which was recommended for a license in the downstate district that includes Marion and Carbondale.
A manager of that company is Tom Jennings, the state’s former Department of Agriculture director who was appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Jennings, who served under Quinn before retiring from his state post in 2011 after more than three decades with the department, downplayed his connection to Quinn and said he worked for the state under a myriad of governors. Jennings declined to comment further.
Though Quinn administration officials have stressed applicants were scored in the blind, notations beside some of the applicants suggest it wasn’t that simple. However, no such notations appeared beside In Grown or Ieso.
Finally, staffers working in the Quinn administration recommended two dispensary licenses for 3C Compassionate Care Center LLC, which is co-owned by Traci Fernandez, her husband Hugo Fernandez, and her father — retired Will County Judge Robert Livas.
“I retired as the chief of the felony division in Will County,” Livas said. “I was a little tough on drugs.”
But about six years ago his daughter, Traci Fernandez, was stricken with transverse myelitis in 2008 — essentially waking up paralyzed over Labor Day weekend of that year. The mother of two young children, now bound to a wheelchair, started a foundation to help find a cure but ultimately had trouble raising money.
She persuaded her husband and father to help her found 3C.
Fernandez said she felt a mix of excitement and pride when she learned 3C had been recommended for a license. Livas, who said the venture is part of the reason he retired in November, called it a “tribute to how much effort we put in.”
Still, he said it won’t mean much until the Rauner administration makes its own decision and determines who will be allowed to legally grow and sell medical marijuana.
Applicants like 3C are ready for that day to come, he said.
“We’ve done everything we can do,” Livas said. “There’s nothing left to do. We just have to wait this out.”