Registration for Illinois medical marijuana pilot program begins

By Alex Swanson

Many Illinois residents are now able to apply for medical cannabis licenses with the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Registration for medical marijuana licenses for patients with last names beginning with the letters “A” through “L” began on Sept. 2, and lasts through Oct. 31.

Patients with last names beginning with “M” through “Z” may apply from Nov. 1 until Dec. 31.

Within the first few days of registration, over 2,000 people started the application process. That number came as a surprise to Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

“We had anticipated getting a couple of hundred, so a couple of thousand was beyond our expectation,” Arnold said.

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Pricing for marijuana is not going to be regulated by the state and will be left up to the free market. However, Dan Linn, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws for Illinois, feels that the price could be dependent on the price in the illegal market.

“It’s really going to be pretty closely tied to the illegal marketplace for cannabis, looking at an ounce of cannabis as anywhere from $250-$400 depending on the part of the state that you’re in and the quality of the cannabis that you’re buying,” Linn said.

He suspects that if the legal price is about 10 percent higher than the illegal marketplace, patients will turn to the illegal marketplace to buy cannabis. But, if the price is too low, then there may be legal cannabis resold on the illegal marketplace for profit.

However, Kevin Garcia, an Urbana city planner, added that he doesn’t anticipate a substantial amount of state program marijuana being sold illegally, as the state program is very restrictive in who has access to it. He believes the dispensary facilities should be secure.

Linn also said that a price war might develop between cultivation centers. To stay in business, many centers may even sell at a loss.

While there are many patients anxious to access medical marijuana, there are still many patients that feel the nature of the program is overly restrictive.

Linn said that patients have frequently complained about the required fingerprinting and the denial of access to medicine based on felony convictions.

Further, Linn said that $400,000 in liquid assets is needed for a dispensary license and half a million is needed for a cultivation center license. In Linn’s opinion, those costs have made the market unattainable for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Parties can apply for dispensary and cultivation center licenses through Sept. 22; however, there are strict geographic restrictions that must be adhered to.

Dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school or day care facility, and cultivation centers cannot be within 2,500 feet of a school, day care or residentially zoned area.

The program allows for 22 cultivation center licenses in Illinois, one for each Illinois State Police district. However, because one of those districts is the Illinois Tollway, there are essentially 21 licenses available in the state.

“With 21 throughout the entire state, it is going to be a very competitive process because there are so few licenses,” Arnold said.

As there are 60 licenses available throughout the state for dispensary centers, Arnold feels that there will be a competitive atmosphere for dispensary centers.

Urbana revised their zoning ordinance in August in order to allow for medical marijuana usage and followed the same geographic guidelines for the placement of dispensary centers and cultivation centers as the state.

Garcia, who was in charge of drafting the amendment to the zoning ordinance, stated that there are a number of parties interested in opening a dispensary in Urbana. However, the geographic limitations of the program significantly restrict areas in the city that would be suitable for dispensaries and particularly cultivation centers.

“That 2,500 feet for the cultivation centers really limits the amount of spaces that you could put a cultivation center; it limits it pretty significantly. So there’s probably not a great spot in town where that would be able to occur,” Garcia said. “But for dispensaries, because it’s only a 1,000 feet, you have quite a few locations in the city.”

Erik Kotewa, deputy director for the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, said that he has seen about 12 applications come to his organization for dispensaries and cultivation centers in Champaign County.

He feels the program could have significant benefits to patients and cities involved in the process.

Garcia also felt that opening a dispensary could have monetary benefits for the city.

“I think the benefits, just personally, are going to be adding a little bit to the tax base, in terms of a dispensary,” Garcia said.

Garcia specified that although there is no written law that money will go to the city if a party secures a license for a cultivation center in Urbana, it’s likely that parties interested in creating a cultivation center will bring monetary benefits to the city in indirect ways.

“Urbana sort of prides itself on being a regional medical hub, and I think this would just be another way to attract people to Urbana for medical care, and you might get some spillover economic benefits,” Garcia said.

“You could see a lot of people have access to a natural medicine, that by many accounts, is much safer and more effective than a lot of the pharmaceutical drugs,” Linn said. “You could also see the State of Illinois, especially in the central and southern parts of Illinois, really look at this as a potential economic boom for their region.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected].