By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Advocates for medical marijuana in Illinois are concerned that delays in issuing distribution licenses, exacerbated by a change in governors, is keeping the drug from patients who need it.
Former Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, who supported medical marijuana, left office in January without issuing licenses for growth and distribution, leaving it to his successor, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.
Rauner, who has expressed skepticism about the licensing process, wants a thorough legal review, his office said, which means more time before the 2013 law can be implemented.
For patients that means no hope of getting the drug until at least June even if the Rauner administration issues licenses in the next month, said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit.
The law requires plants to be grown in Illinois, which takes 4-1/2 months in the best of circumstances.
"We're pretty concerned - we've been waiting for a long time," Lindsey said. Supporters had hoped licenses would be issued last fall.
Illinois is one of 23 states plus the District of Columbia that permits medical marijuana. Illinois' trial program expires in 2017.
Lindsey said he believes Rauner is "trying to be careful, but in the process he's really failing our seriously ill patients in Illinois."
The Quinn administration prepared lists of businesses qualified to receive the licenses before he left office, according to recently released documents.
A Quinn administration spokesperson said that while state agencies made substantial progress evaluating applicants, Quinn decided to turn the job over to Rauner for proper review.
Rauner's office said it will refer its findings to the state Attorney General's office.
Democratic State Representative Lou Lang, a medical marijuana supporter, said Quinn's staff used blind scoring procedures to eliminate favoritism in picking who should get licenses, and it was a shame Quinn didn't issue them.
"Now we have a governor who's not a big fan of the program and has to be convinced to move forward," Lang said.
Lang said a patient or potential distributor who got a high qualifying score may sue to move things along.
Marla Levi, 51, who has multiple sclerosis, said she felt betrayed by Quinn.
But she doesn't mind the Rauner administration going through the lists again to ensure the right people will be growing and dispensing the drug.
"We know how government has worked in Illinois ... we want to know everything," Levi said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)