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Cook County Judge Says Medical Marijuana Delay Can Continue

CHICAGO (AP) — A Cook County judge ruled Thursday that a temporary restraining order delaying a medical marijuana cultivation center in northeastern Illinois can remain in place.

Judge Kathleen Kennedy also ordered the plaintiff to post a bond of $200,000 to compensate for any harm caused if delays are later found to be improperly granted.

Cresco Labs was the top-scoring company and the winner in the permit competition in a district that includes Ford, Iroquois and Kankakee counties. But the plaintiff, a company called PM Rx, claims the Illinois Department of Agriculture broke its own rules when awarding permits and it should have been the winner.

The case, one of at least four legal proceedings entangling Illinois' marijuana program, involves questions about a secret selection process and whether unsuccessful businesses will ever know why their applications failed to win permits.

The Illinois medical cannabis law shields the applications from public disclosure, which has kept PM Rx unable to directly cite problems with the government's evaluation of applications. But Gov. Bruce Rauner's office itself noted problems in the process under his predecessor that had created "a risk of substantial and costly litigation" to the state when winners were announced Feb. 2.

Citing the governor's concerns, PM Rx persuaded the judge to pause the process. PM Rx also noted the state's troubles completing FBI background checks of applicants and called into question the background of Cresco's lead grower. PM Rx raised doubts about whether Cresco, which won three permits, had enough money to get its business off the ground.

PM Rx CEO Andrew James said with Thursday's ruling everyone is closer to seeing the process the state used in picking growers.

James said the company's lawyers will file a notice of the documents they expect the state to produce and a notice to depose former Gov. Pat Quinn and others involved in the process, including former Agriculture Director Bob Flider, former State Police Director Hiram Grau and the principals of Cresco Labs.

"Unlike the State, we firmly believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant for this selection process," James said in a statement.

Attorneys for the Department of Agriculture and Cresco refuted the claims, saying Cresco has met all of its financial obligations and passed background checks.

"They argue we're searching for financing. So what? We're allowed to," said Cresco Labs' attorney Steve Levy in court Wednesday. Levy had argued his client wasn't properly notified about the lawsuit. He said Cresco Labs wasn't able to argue its case against the temporary restraining order granted two weeks ago. Kennedy's order halted the Illinois Department of Agriculture from issuing a permit to Cresco for its Kankakee operation.

In allowing the order to stand Thursday, the judge noted that Cresco will be able to make its arguments as the case progresses.

Separately Thursday, the Illinois Appellate Court denied the Department of Agriculture's appeal of the same temporary restraining order.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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