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Thursday, May 1, 2014 12:01 am

Medical marijuana rules developing

Cultivation and dispensary center locations still uncertain

The rules for Illinois’ forthcoming medical marijuana industry are taking shape.

A second draft of rules for the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program was released April 18. The proposed rules refine a previous draft that was released in January. On Jan. 1, medical marijuana became legal in Illinois after legislation passed in the Illinois General Assembly last year.

Under the drafted rules, there may be no more than 22 cultivation centers, where the marijuana is grown and packaged, across the 20 Illinois State Police (ISP) districts. There may be no more than two centers per district. There may be up to 60 dispensaries, where medical marijuana is sold, throughout Illinois.

Bradley Vallerius, an Illinois lawyer who wrote the book Illinois Medical Marijuana Law: A Practical Guide for Everyone, said there’s no way to predict exactly where those centers will be located. For example, a group interested in opening a dispensary approached the city council in Litchfield, which is located in ISP District 18 south of Sangamon County. Vallerius said a center’s successful opening depends on whether an application is granted and if the community will allow it.

“It’s going to be a competitive process … most of the groups are putting their plans together and they don’t want public exposure. People are still concerned about public perception,” he said.

Vallerius said because Springfield is a population center, it would make sense as a dispensary location, but not a cultivation center. He said cultivation centers are more appropriate for rural areas.

The new language requires groups to have a set amount of money beforehand in order to open a cultivation center or a dispensary, where it’s sold. Those requirements will affect who gets a shot at becoming a part of the industry. For example, there is a $25,000 nonrefundable fee for a cultivation center application. The price to apply for a dispensary is $5,000, and those who receive a permit must then pay a $30,000 fee to register with the state.

In contrast to the earlier proposal, the newer rules show that it will cost users less to receive a medical marijuana card. Originally, patients were required to pay a $150 annual application fee, but that amount has since been reduced to $100. Disabled people and veterans would pay $50 for the card. The fee for caregivers has been reduced from $125 to $25.

Another change to the proposed rules eliminates the restrictions on gun owners who seek to receive a medical marijuana prescription. Previously, patients and caregivers would not have been allowed to possess Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards or Concealed Carry Weapons permits.

The rules were drafted by four departments: the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture. They will take public comment on the drafts until early in June before presenting a revised proposal to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR).

Depending on how quickly JCAR approves the rules, Vallerius said the state may begin accepting applications for cultivation centers and dispensaries as early as June. The departments will grade the applications based on a variety of factors, such as location, the management team’s experience, how well the centers will be financed and proposed security plans.

After the applications are granted, Vallerius said, the next hurdle will be for patients to find a physician who will prescribe them medical marijuana.

“I expect there will be an interesting period in the beginning where some doctors are going to be reluctant to prescribe it, and that’s part of them being raised in a society where cannabis has been described as being bad,” Vallerius said.

Vallerius is planning a free public forum on the details of medical cannabis at 6 p.m. May 4 at the Oakley Lindsay Center in Quincy.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will host two hearings on the latest proposed rules, including one at 9 a.m. May 21 at the University Of Illinois Springfield. 

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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