Skokie Democrat vows to continue push for medical marijuana licenses
By Seth A. Richardson of GateHouse Media Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Despite departing Gov. Pat Quinn declining to award licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana, state Rep. Lou Lang said he’s still holding out hope for Illinois’ program.
The Democrat from Skokie said he was upset Quinn decided to neglect the issue in recent weeks, particularly because Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, said during the campaign he likely would have vetoed the medical marijuana bill passed last year.
Lang said Quinn’s refusal to award licenses is a catastrophic blow to the four-year pilot initiative.
“This single failure may doom the medical cannabis program,” Lang said at a Capitol news conference Tuesday. “This single failure said to all of those folks that made applications to be cultivators or dispensary owners that we took your $5 million (in fees), but we’ll get to you when we feel like it.”
Andy Huston, a farmer from Roseville, said he was also disappointed after hearing Quinn would not be issuing licenses. Huston, along with his brother Frank, set out to open a marijuana-growing facility about one year ago in their small town 30 miles southwest of Galesburg. They eventually joined with Chicago lawyer Alex Thiersch and formed Salveo Hileni Production to take on the endeavor.
Since then, they’ve hit several hurdles, the latest being Quinn’s refusal to award licenses. Andy Huston also said he’s been relatively in the dark as far as information about his application this entire time.
“The Department of Agriculture hasn’t been putting out much as far as statements or as far as a timeline,” he said. “We’ve pretty much been going by what’s been reported in the paper.”
While upset at Quinn’s lack of action, Frank Huston said he understood it.
“Personally, I’m upset, but realistically, I know what it takes to go through a process,” he said. “Just as long as everybody does what they said they were going to do and let’s finish this. We’ve put a lot of money in this, and it’d be ridiculous to throw it down the pipes.”
He said he understood the rationale behind Quinn not signing the licenses at the last minute so as not to taint the process.
Lang said even if the licenses for growers and distributors were awarded tomorrow, and with it taking at least four to six months for the first crop to be fully ready for sale, it would still leave only about 2½ years for the program. The legislation did not include a specific timeline for issuing licenses.
That long amount of time, coupled with the lack of licenses, has left the Hustons and Thiersch in a state of uncertainty. They said they’ve invested about $250,000 and a large amount of time into Salveo Hileni, including legal fees for zoning, hiring consultants from Colorado to teach them the growing technique, constructing a 10,500-square-foot building, and traveling to Colorado, California and the 225-mile car trip to Chicago multiple times. The $250,000 figure does not include investors’ money budgeted to make the business run if they do get a license, which is in the millions of dollars.
Thiersch said they are planning to hire 15 to 20 people initially with salaries of $30,000 to $50,000 per year once the licensing comes through.
“I have several people to hire who are all in limbo,” Andy Huston said. “If we knew if we were or weren’t going to get the permit, we could move on with our lives.”
Thiersch said he feels it even beyond the Roseville facility. He is part of six applications — grow sites in Quincy and Clinton along with Roseville and dispensaries in Quincy, Elgin and Rockford — that are all waiting for licensing. The six facilities combined could provide up to 90 jobs total, he said.
Lang said he’s considering introducing legislation to start a new timeline for the program from when it is actually implemented, and he’s concerned about the possibility of serious financial burden on the state or litigation from growers and dispensers.
“Many will consider asking for a refund of their money,” he said. “Many of them will say, ‘We want to see the scores on those applications. We would like to know who won them even though they weren’t issued.’ And many of them will consider court action. The state of Illinois has a responsibility to fulfill it’s obligations under the law, and we did not do that as of noon yesterday.”
Thiersch said while Salveo Hileni planned to ride the program out until the end, there will come a point when other firms will sue.
“I do think that point can be reached, and it will be reached when people start running out of money,” he said. “That’s when lawsuits happen.”
Lang said he intended to open a dialogue with the new governor. He also plans to contact Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, who split with Rauner during the campaign and said she supported medical marijuana. Lang said he hoped Rauner wouldn’t start the application process over with his own staff.
Asked about it at another news event, Rauner said the medical marijuana law is on the books of the state, but that he wants to make sure it is “run properly.”
“What we now need to do is get immersed in the process and learn exactly the status, how has it been managed, how has it been run and look at whether we need to change anything that’s occurred,” Rauner said. “I have a concern ... that it looked like some folks had left the administration, they were playing bonding 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.”