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State's medical marijuana program could hang in limbo for a while

Rep. Lou Lang was a key sponsor of the bill to legalize medical marijuana in Illinois. | AP file photo

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ stalled medical marijuana program may not be going away under Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But the freshly inaugurated Republican won’t exactly be picking up where his predecessor left off. That means hundreds of patients and investors could continue to hang in limbo after former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn failed to issue licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana here.

Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who pushed to legalize medical marijuana in Illinois, said Tuesday that Quinn’s inaction might have doomed the program. But Rauner said later his staff needs to “get immersed in the process and learn exactly the status.”

“How’s it been managed?” Rauner said. “How’s it been run? And look at whether we need to change anything that’s occurred.”

That means more delays for a pilot program set to expire in 2017. Quinn was expected to issue the licenses at the end of 2014. Still, Rauner acknowledged “the law has been passed.”

“I want to enforce the laws of the state, and that particular law is on the books,” Rauner said.

Lang said the state collected $5 million in fees from the roughly 400 applicants seeking to open dispensaries and cultivation centers. He also said recommendations for the licenses had reached Quinn’s desk, but a spokeswoman for the former governor disagreed with that Tuesday.

“This single failure may doom the medical cannabis program,” Lang said. “This single failure said to all of those folks that made applications to be cultivators or dispensary owners that, ‘We took your $5 million, but we’ll get to you when we feel like it.'”

A Quinn spokesman previously said the former 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 the work in full accordance with the law, and the new administration will now administer the rest.”

Rauner said it’s not that simple.

“I have a concern,” Rauner said. “I expressed my concern during the campaign, that it looked like some folks had left the [Quinn] administration. They were playing lobbying roles. They were working with some of their friends to get some of these contracts. I’m concerned about the process. I don’t think it’s been run well, and we’ll have to assess the situation once we get inside.”

Lang said the applications went through a blind scoring process.

He also said there is no deadline in the law for issuing the licenses. Lang said people who had considered investing in the program could soon be disillusioned by the delays and take their money elsewhere. He also said some applicants might also take the state to court to recover their money.

Meanwhile, he said he’s reaching out to the Rauner administration, hoping the new governor doesn’t start over from scratch. He said the program’s not about dollars and cents, and he didn’t hide his anger with Quinn.

“Some very sick people were hurt [Monday],” Lang said. “And some very innocent people were hurt yesterday. And some very innocent families were hurt yesterday. From a person who has spent his life talking about health care.”