Illinois MMJ FAQs: Answers for Dispensaries from the State

This week’s announcement from the state of Illinois confirming the application window for prospective dispensary and cultivation businesses was accompanied by two sets of FAQs from the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. These FAQs were compiled following the series of town hall meetings held around the state by the three state agencies that will be regulating Illinois’ medical cannabis regime.

Below are some of the highlights from the DFPR queries, and our reactions.

  • Number of Applicants and Identity of License Winners. It may seem like a moot point that once applications are in, the state will release the number of applications submitted in each dispensing or cultivating district and the identity of the winning applicants. But this is actually valuable information, because it will inform any future decision the Illinois General Assembly may make about the potential for further application periods and/or licenses, continued involvement by out-of-staters, limits on the number of licenses to be held by single individuals or entities, etc. As it stands now, no additional applications will be accepted after the September 8-22 window (unless a district has no qualified applicants) — additional licenses would have to be authorized by the Assembly.
  • Application Fee. Better pay attention to this one. Your application fee ($5,000 for dispensaries, $25,000 for cultivation centers), must be submitted via certified check or money order. No cash. No credit cards. And your fee cannot be submitted after the application window closes — everything must be submitted on time, including the fee. The fee AND your application must be hand delivered.
  • Criminal History. The requirement that principal officers be free of “disqualifying convictions” is nothing new. However it is worth repeating the state’s advice to disclose all possible criminal history. Those individuals will be subject to background checks anyway, and you shouldn’t risk disqualification of your entire application trying to cover up a prior indiscretion. It should go without saying that if any of your officers have an excluded offense on their criminal history (or even suspect they might), get them out of your business now.
  • Changes. If any facts or circumstances pertinent to your application arise or become known to you while your application is pending, advise DFPR in writing. This might include changes to your ownership or management structure, updated zoning status, etc. In most instances, we would advise you to also disclose any negative developments as well — if DFPR finds out on its own, nondisclosure could doom your application.
  • Bonus points. Though the draft dispensary application released a few weeks ago provided a breakdown of points to be awarded to various sections of the application (e.g., business plan, security), it was not explained how the bonus points provision is triggered. The FAQ, however, tell us that the 100 points available for items such as a research plan, environmental plan, etc. only become available if you meet the minimum criteria for the mandatory parts of the application. Make sure your bases are covered before you try scoring extras.
  • Livescan. Fingerprinting and authorization for the mandatory background checks must be dated within 30 days of your application date. Since there are fewer than 30 days left to apply, do your fingerprint scan NOW.
  • Security. This should be a no-brainer, but since you will want to squeeze out all the points you can, follow DFPR’s suggestion that you provide “the best possible plans” — don’t just do the bare minimum.
  • Zoning. Zoning requirements have been the source of confusion. Here DFPR tries to clear the air a bit by explaining that “The Division expects that applicants will be in varying stages of zoning compliance process.” In other words, you don’t have to be “done” with your zoning when you file your application. Still, we strongly believe that at the time you apply you should be fairly certain your dispensary is in a canna-friendly municipality and in a spot that meets zoning restrictions.
  • Publicly Owned Property. DFPR clarified that a dispensary may be located on public property. Obviously you must still be sure you are in a non-residential zone with no nearby schools or daycare facilities.
  • MMJ Experience. In response to a question asking whether all principal officers must have experience in business management or in the medical cannabis industry, DFPR stated that “at least one principal officer must demonstrate experience and qualifications in business management and at least one principal officer must demonstrate experience in the medical cannabis industry.” Well, this came as news to us. DFPR regs require an applicant to submit the resumes of principal officers, noting “whether that person has an academic degree, certification or relevant experience with a medical cannabis business or in a related industry.” Asking whether a person has such a background is not the same thing as requiring it, and given that no one within Illinois has such experience since the program is just launching, the FAQ response seems to create a requirement that applicants bring on at least one out-of-state principal. This inconsistency has us puzzled, so we have contacted DFPR. We will certainly update readers with what we learn.

You’ll want to revisit the FAQ page from time to time as DFPR says it will be updating the information there as potential applicants and citizens continue to ask questions. Later this week we will review FAQs posed to the Department of Agriculture concerning cultivation centers.