Illinois: Medical Marijuana In Limbo As Hostile GOP Governor Takes Office

IllinoisMedicalMarijuana

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Illinois patients who are still waiting for safe access to medical marijuana were once again left disappointed on Monday when outgoing Democratic Governor Pat Quinn not only failed to award licenses to growers and dispensaries before leaving office, but actually tightened the state's already strict medical marijuana laws in one of his final acts in office.

"I was livid," said state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who originally sponsored Illinois' medical marijuana law, reports Kim Bellware at The Huffington Post. "I think the governor made a serious and grievous mistake today."

Patient advocates had hoped Quinn would get the program off the ground by issuing licenses before incoming Republican Governor Bruce Rauner -- who ridiculed the medical marijuana program during his election campaign -- was sworn in on Monday. While medicinal cannabis has been legal for more than a year now in Illinois, the state violated its own deadline at the end of 2014 to issue licenses.

Patients have yet to benefit from the law.

“It is time to take the politics out of this issue and help these patients and families get safe and legal access to this medicine," Dan Linn, the executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (IL NORML). "Without these licenses being issued soon, hope is running out for some of these patients who are depending on these facilities to be opening soon so that their medicine will be legally available.”

According to Linn, "There isn't really a solid definitive answer" why no dispensaries have won approval to grow, reports Abby Haglage at The Daily Beast.

Under the tightened restrictions signed by the outgoing Quinn on Monday, state officials can now impose fines and other penalties, rather than just revoking licenses, on anyone who violates the strict medical marijuana law. Growers, patients and caregivers now face even tougher criminal background checks, report Sophia Tareen and Carla K. Johnson of the Associated Press.

While Quinn "can make small cosmetic changes to the law, he can't change the intent," Rep. Lang said. "I don't think [the changes] are going to stick in that form. It will have to be done with a separate piece of legislation."

Lang said the snafu was Quinn's fault. "State agencies told me they made their choices [for licenses] and were just waiting on the governor's signature," he said. "The blame lies squarely on his shoulders."

"The inexplicable unwillingness of Governor Quinn to finish the job on the medical marijuana program means one thing: unnecessary prolonged pain and suffering of very sick people," Lang said. "The people suffering from cancer, epilepsy will be further victimized by the governor's failure to do his job."

Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman made the lame excuse that the process of awarding licenses to dispensaries and cultivation centers "shouldn't be rushed out last minute," a particularly ironic thing to say after patients have been waiting for years for the bill to pass, and for months since it was passed as law.

Hundreds of businesses were awaiting Quinn's decision after sending in applications under the law setting up the medical marijuana pilot project. The state had been planning to award licenses to 21 medical marijuana cultivation centers, one in each Illinois State Police district.

Lang said the state collected $5 million in fees from the roughly 400 applicants wanting to open dispensaries and cultivation centers, reports Jon Seidel at the Chicago Sun Times.

"The inexplicable unwillingness of Governor Quinn to finish the job on the medical marijuana program means one thing: unnecessary prolonged pain and suffering of very sick people," Lang said. "The people suffering from cancer, epilepsy will be further victimized by the governor's failure to do his job."

"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.’”

Gov. Rauner, who was inaugurated on Monday, is now in charge of the medical marijuana licensing process. Rauner has criticized the selection process as subject to cronyism. During his campaign for governor, the venture capitalist suggested just auctioning the licenses off to the highest bidders.

With yet more delays now occurring in a pilot program set to expire in 2017, some discouraged patients are speculating the law might never result in any safe access at all. "Here we sit again at the whims of the politicians and what they decide they're going to do," said multiple sclerosis patient Julie Falco of Chicago.

"People are definitely frustrated, the patients are really upset that they are waiting," said Linn of Illinois NORML.

“Some very sick people were hurt,” Lang said on Tuesday. “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.”

"The state of Illinois has a responsibility to fulfill its obligations under the law," Lang said. "We did not do that."