Illinois Medical Cannabis: A Legislative Update

When will Illinois's medical cannabis regime get beyond the sprouting phase?
When will Illinois’s medical cannabis regime get beyond the sprouting phase?

With summer winding down and seeds now in the ground, let’s recap some of the key legislative developments in Illinois.

The original pilot program extension and decriminalization bills are all but toast. Earlier this spring, the Illinois General Assembly passed three key bills relating to medical cannabis—a decriminalization and DUI bill (HB218), a bill extending the sunset of the pilot program (HB3299), and a bill adding PTSD as a qualifying condition. Governor Rauner issued amendatory vetoes of House Bills 218 and 3299, lowering the possession limits from 15 grams to 10, tightening the per se DUI limit from 15 nanograms to 5, and shortening the sunset extension from 4 years to 4 months.

By law, the General Assembly has 15 days from the next session date to override vetoed bills. Typically, legislators hold a special veto session each fall to ensure that the 15-day clock starts at the same time for all vetoed bills. However, the General Assembly has been in continuous session all summer fighting over an historic budget impasse. So, the 15-day clock on these bills started much earlier than usual.  The House could have but did not call the bill this week, essentially guaranteeing it will fail to become law at all.*

Senate Bill 33, which would add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions, still sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature. Some expected him to veto this bill, assuming PTSD would be added through administrative rule, making the legislative change essentially redundant. However, there’s still no word on whether DPH will add any qualifying conditions. The entire industry in Illinois is waiting with bated breath to see whether the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will expand the list of conditions for medical cannabis patients. In May, the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board considered petitions to add 15 new conditions. It made a formal recommendation to IDPH Director Nirav Shah to add 11 of those conditions (including PTSD and migraines).

The Director is vested with the discretion to add some or all of these conditions through administrative rule. Illinois law provides that IDPH “shall approve or deny a petition within 180 days of its submission, and, upon approval, shall proceed to add that condition by [administrative] rule.” The 180-day clock ran out last week without any indication of whether any of the approved conditions would be added. The Governor’s Office claims the petitions are still “under review.”

Many in the industry are growing increasingly fearful that low Illinois patient numbers could spell trouble for the program. Only about 3,000 patients have been approved for the program since last year, and the 11 additional conditions would significantly broaden the number of eligible patients. However, peoples’ frustrations are continuing to grow, especially since IDPH’s petition process is simply not functioning the way lawmakers intended it to. I can tell you that our firm’s Illinois cannabis clients are extremely frustrated with the slow pace here and some of them are doubting their ability to continue much longer. We are hearing the same thing at the various cannabis events we attend here in Chicago as well.

A comprehensive tax and regulate bill. The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act was filed last week by Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), the bill’s sole sponsor. This proposed measure would remove all criminal penalties for possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis, permit home cultivation for up to 6 plants, impose a 10% excise tax, and create a standalone recreational program administered exclusively through the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Interestingly, it does not provide any mechanism for existing medical licensees to convert or cross-over to a recreational license and establishes no selection criteria for potential licensees. We’ll continue to keep our eye on its progress.

In the meantime, about all we can tell you is to hang in there….


*Correction: A previous version of this post stated the vetoed version will become law. An astute reader correctly pointed out that AV’ed bills require a concurrence vote, without which it will fail to become law.