- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - More lawsuits have been filed against the state of Illinois over medical marijuana growers’ permits, as failed applicants challenge the government-selected winners in the new industry.

Two new complaints, filed in recent weeks, affect cultivation centers in southwestern Illinois and Cook County. There are now four lawsuits naming the Illinois Department of Agriculture as a defendant and 33 months left in the state’s pilot program, which has been troubled by questions about background checks and how the government selected businesses.

“We are requesting transparency and a level playing field, to ensure fundamental fairness was used in the application scoring process,” said Kathleen McDonough, an attorney representing Medponics Illinois, which filed the most recent lawsuit. “This can only be achieved through release of the scoring data to the people of the State of Illinois.”

Around the state, growers with permits are starting construction of highly secured growing warehouses. Some have predicted a late fall harvest with medical marijuana reaching patients soon after that.

Patients are not allowed to grow their own marijuana in Illinois, creating the potential for a lucrative market. The state has approved 2,000 patients for the program and about 19,500 people have started the patient registration process.

In the southwestern Illinois lawsuit, a competitor claims a permit was issued improperly to Progressive Treatment Solutions to grow marijuana in East St. Louis. Madison County Labs filed the lawsuit challenging Progressive’s permit.

“We’re questioning whether the successful applicant had their zoning in place at the time their application was submitted” as required by law, said Madison County Labs’ attorney Andrew Carruthers.

In the other case, unsuccessful applicant Medponics Illinois sued the Department of Agriculture and Bedford Grow, a permit winner planning to operate in the Chicago suburb of Bedford Park, according to the lawsuit.

Waukegan-based Medponics wanted to grow marijuana in the Chicago suburb of Hodgkins and in the Lake County city of Zion, but won neither permit. State officials may have confused Medponics with an unrelated dispensary applicant that has a similar name, McDonough said, citing a list of scores released by the state that says “Medicann LLC/Medponics.”

Messages seeking comment from Progressive and Bedford Grow were not immediately returned.

In two earlier lawsuits now working their way through the Cook County court system, unsuccessful applicants are challenging permits to Cresco Labs’ operations planned for Joliet and Kankakee. They claim the Department of Agriculture broke its own rules when it selected the winning applicants.

Illinois announced permit winners last month, but questions about the selection process later clouded the decisions. Permit selection had been handed off from former Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, to his Republican 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.

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

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