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State blows self-imposed deadline for medical marijuana business licenses

The state has blown its self-imposed deadline to issue licenses for people to grow and sell medical marijuana. | File Photo

State officials on Wednesday missed their self-imposed deadline to award licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana in Illinois before the end of 2014.

On New Year’s Eve, a state spokeswoman said no announcement would be made regarding the limited and highly sought licenses.

In a statement, officials said, “We are strongly committed to bringing relief to thousands of people across the state and ensuring Illinois is the national model for implementing medical cannabis. We are working hard to make sure this is done right. We are conducting a comprehensive review of every cultivation center and dispensary applicant to ensure that only the most qualified are approved for this important program. We will announce the recipients when this important review is finished.”

But any delay in the bureaucracy means delays for seriously ill people who suffer from conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy and are waiting to use medical marijuana.

It seems the state is more concerned with making sure this medical program is being done in, what they consider to be, the right way,” said Dan Linn, the executive director of Illinois NORML, a marijuana advocacy group. “But in that same notion, this is is supposed to help sick people who are struggling to stay alive, and that sense of urgency by the state of Illinois is not there.”

Linn said it would take about four months to grow, harvest and prepare marijuana to be used. But that doesn’t include the time it will take license-holders to build or fix up their facilities.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who sponsored the medical marijuana legislation, said he’s not worried that licenses have yet to be awarded.

“I don’t think people should think there’s any glitches here,” he said. “They just want to do it right.”

The clock, however, is ticking if Gov. Pat Quinn wants to get the licenses out before Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes office Jan. 12.

“It’s reasonable to assume that the Quinn folks in place will be issuing these licenses before the exchange to the Rauner people,” Lang said.

Spokeswomen for Quinn and for the medical marijuana program did not answer questions about whether the Quinn administration plans to issue the licenses before the end of his term.

If the licenses have not been awarded by the time Rauner is in office, his administration will review what’s been done by Quinn’s people and decide how to proceed from there, Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for Rauner, said.

But Schrimpf wouldn’t say if Rauner’s transition team has been dealing with any aspect of the medical marijuana program before taking office.

“We are in contact with the Quinn administration about a number of transition items,” he said.

Meanwhile, the waiting game continues as entrepreneurs yearn to learn the state’s decisions.

Nick Williams, an attorney for Erba, which seeks to open a dispensary in Bloomington, said the main priority should be cultivation centers. Up to 21 will be allowed to open throughout the state and without them, there won’t be any medical marijuana in Illinois.

“The cultivation centers have to be able to grow the stuff before dispensaries can open,” he said adding: “We are months and months and months away from medical cannabis being a reality in Illinois.”