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Illinois hands out marijuana permits despite lawsuits

Published: Thursday, March 12, 2015 11:39 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2015 11:42 p.m. CDT

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CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Agriculture is handing out permits to medical marijuana growers, even as a new lawsuit adds momentum to the cause of failed applicants who'd like a court review.

Growers have months of construction ahead, including installation of security systems, before they can plant, but the permits bring them a step closer to what's likely to be a late fall harvest.

In a second lawsuit against the state, White Oak Growers LLC, an unsuccessful applicant, says the department broke its own rules when it selected corporations for a limited number of cultivation permits. The complaint, filed Wednesday in Cook County, seeks to block a permit to Cresco Labs LLC.

Illinois announced permit winners last month, but questions about background checks and the selection process later clouded the decisions. Permit selection had been handed off from former Gov. Pat Quinn to his successor, and Gov. Bruce Rauner's office noted problems in the Quinn process that had created "a risk of substantial and costly litigation" to the state.

The latest lawsuit names Cresco and the agriculture department and would affect Cresco's plans in Joliet. It echoes an earlier lawsuit filed by PM Rx LLC. A Cook County judge granted a temporary restraining order in the earlier case, delaying Cresco's permit in Kankakee. The agriculture department has filed an appeal.

In a third case, an attorney is seeking a judge's permission to file a lawsuit against Shelby County Community Services, a Shelbyville nonprofit that won a permit to grow marijuana. A hearing in that matter is expected April 21 in Coles County.

Joe Caltabiano of Cresco issued a statement Thursday, calling the new lawsuit "another example of groundless legal maneuvering by a disappointed applicant." Cresco, which won three permits, also has a grow operation planned for Lincoln.

Elsewhere, hopes lifted for marijuana entrepreneurs with applications still "under review." They met with the department Thursday, Agriculture Department spokeswoman Kristi Jones told The Associated Press.

Jones didn't name the groups, but the February announcement listed Curative Health, Illinois Grown Medicine and Effingham Farms as cultivation applicants "on hold for further review."

And, for the first time this week, the department allowed growers to pick up printed permits. "It's a good sign that things are moving," said Tim O'Hern of Nature's Grace and Wellness, a cultivation center in Vermont, Illinois. Teddy Scott of PharmaCann said his company has picked up permits for its facilities in Dwight and Hillcrest.

The grower targeted for litigation picked up two of its three permits, said Cresco spokeswoman Terri Cornelius.

Dispensary licenses are moving forward, said Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the agency overseeing the marijuana retailers. Most dispensaries have until early June to submit registration materials, he said. Dispensaries will be inspected before registrations are issued.

"Health Central LLC and IL WelMed LLC are still under review, but we do anticipate action on those dispensary applicants in the near future," Horstman told the AP.

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AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson

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