Illinois has had a medical marijuana law on the books for about a year now. Thousands of people have applied to become patients, and numerous entities and individuals have applied for a cultivation and/or distribution license. Illinois does not allow patients to grow marijuana for themselves, so the only way a patient can legally obtain medical marijuana is buy purchasing some at a licensed dispensary who obtained it from a licensed grower. The problem with that process is that there are no business licenses issued yet, and it doesn't sound like there will be any issued anytime soon, as outgoing Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has refused to issue any and has apparently left that task to his predecessor.
Rather than work on issuing business licenses, Governor Quinn instead passed a bill yesterday making changes to Illinois' medical marijuana program. Those changes are detailed below, via Illinois Senate President John Cullerton's site:
A series of updates to Illinois' medical marijuana program were signed into law Monday. State Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton) sponsored this follow-up law and the 2013 law that created the program.
"A program as big and new as medical marijuana needs to be fine-tuned to ensure that it is safe, effective and free of any kind of abuses. As the program is being implemented, we are learning what adjustments are needed," Haine said.
The new law allows the state regulators to impose additional penalties, including fines, for violation of the existing law. Originally, agencies could only revoke a violator's license.
The law also revises criminal background checks for patients, caregivers and anyone involved in cultivation centers and dispensaries: owners, investors and employees. It ensures that applicants' fingerprints are checked against both state and federal databases.
The updates also included a guarantee that patients charged with driving under the influence of medical cannabis will have their patient card revoked and their license suspended just as if they were charged with a DUI.
The Illinois State Police, Secretary of State, Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Health and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation developed and supported these updates based on their work implementing the program.
The delay in issuing medical marijuana business licenses drew swift criticism from the original bill's sponsor Representative Lou Lang. Per Chicago Sun Times:
"The failure is not from the state agencies. State agencies worked their butts off to make this happen. The failure needs to go where the buck stops, at the governor's office," Lang said. "I have been a big supporter of Gov. Quinn and this is a failure."
Lang said he plans to work with the Bruce Rauner administration to move the issue forward.
"This is a real bad blow for patients and very sick people who have waited a long time through a lot of legislation, rule-making, applications, waiting on these licenses to be issues and the product to be grown. For their health care purposes," he said.
Incoming Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has criticized the selection process for medical marijuana business licences. Applications for business licenses have been sitting since last September. Incoming Governor Rauner has stated publicly that the selection process is secretive, and has even gone as far as suggesting that licenses are being auctioned off to the highest bidders behind closed doors. So far, Illinois has collected millions of dollars in nonrefundable fees from applicants, which will no doubt lead to lawsuits regardless of who is awarded licenses.
So when will medical marijuana business licenses be issued in Illinois? There's simply no way to know at this point. I think we will see them issued in 2015, but likely towards the middle or end of the year. Even after licenses are issued, companies will have to construct grow facilities, grow a crop, harvest it, and get it to stores. That process will obviously take several months, meaning that it may be until 2016 before medical marijuana hits shelves. Meanwhile patients are left without any safe, legal way to get medicine. Shame on Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Patients shouldn't have to suffer because of his politically motivated cowardice.