The medical marijuana law approved by Illinois lawmakers last year is moving at a faster pace than most other new programs, and officials say patients could buy the first legal medicinal weed as early as the start of next year.
State lawmakers who sit on the powerful Joint Committee on Administrative Rules met in Chicago July 14 to discuss the proposed rules that would govern medical weed in Illinois.
The rules would go into effect once the committee approves them, and the process of registering patients, growers, and dispensaries would begin. Attorney Bob Morton, coordinator for the state’s MMJ program, said that means patients should have access to medical pot by early 2015.
Applications for patient ID cards will be accepted starting in September, as will applications for growing licenses and retail business licenses, Morton said. The state will use a staggered application process, so some applicants may have to wait longer than others.
Officials will issue licenses to 60 dispensaries and 21 cultivators after winnowing down the list of applicants. These providers can sell only marijuana grown in Illinois. The state expects more people will apply than the state has licenses to give.
Lawmakers tout their MMJ program as the most stringent in the country, though they’re joined on that front by officials in New York, Minnesota, and elsewhere. Only a relatively small portion of the eligible population is expected to enroll.
The state isn’t sure how many patients will register, Morton said, but a large number of people are eligible.
“We do know that there are at least 100,000 to 200,000 patients that will be eligible just based on medical conditions,” he said.
Of those, about 10,000 are likely to enroll, said Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that fights for cannabis reform. Many of them won’t join until the program has been on its feet for a while, Lindsey said, but enrollment should move faster than it has in many other states.
“A lot of people now know about medical marijuana,” he said. “They’ve heard about this in Illinois.”
Morton echoed Lindsey’s prediction, saying the state is preparing to handle “at least tens of thousands in the first year.”
State officials are still working out the financial details that would allow the state to collect revenue. Each dispensary must pay a $30,000 registration fee, while cultivators must pay $200,000 each year. That amounts to at least $6 million in annual revenue if all available licenses are used.
Plus, there’s a $5,000 application fee for dispensaries, a $25,000 fee for cultivation facilities, and a special 7 percent sales tax per ounce of weed sold. But one committee member said lawmakers are more concerned about the program and its patients than about how much money Illinois makes off of them.
“To me, this bill is about patients, not revenue,” said state Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat who sponsored the medical marijuana bill last year and sits on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
Morton said that with the first sales just months away, patients should start talking with their doctors about whether they’re eligible.
“Right now, we think it’s a good time for patients to be having that conversation with their physicians and their caregivers if they have any interest in participating in the program,” he said.