Is Massachusetts MMJ Licensing a Preview of What’s to Come in Illinois?

A recent Boston Globe article raises interesting questions about how medical cannabis licensing could shake out here in Illinois. Three weeks ago the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued 20 of the 35 allotted licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries in that state. Now, according to Adrian Walker of the Globe, doubts are emerging about the integrity of the licensing process.

As Walker reports, applicants were encouraged to gather the support of local officials and make note of such support in their application materials. But now some officials are claiming their support was exaggerated or even that they were mislead. Walker also points out that former US Representative turned cannabis lobbyist William Delahunt has a too close for comfort relationship with the state’s health commissioner, Cheryl Bartlett. Bartlett’s department is the one responsible for evaluating and awarding dispensary licenses.

Dispensary applications in Illinois will be subject to many of the same criteria used by Massachusetts. Business and security plans will be evaluated, a facility’s efforts to meet community concerns will be considered, and the proposed site’s ability to provide consistent, quality care to patients will be an absolute must. But like the Massachusetts dispensary applicants, applicants in Illinois will also run into opposition (or at least reluctance) from local officials and lawmakers. Illinois is no stranger to political corruption, so it stands to reason that conflicts of interest and political deal-making might surface here too.

In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health is largely responsible for implementing the state’s Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, but the Illinois regime is governed by three state agencies, the departments of Public Health, Financial and Professional Regulation, and Agriculture. This division of power could be a deterrent to corruption or an opportunity to grease more palms. No matter which way you view it, you want both the relevant state agency and the local officials in the city your facility is located in to be comfortable with you and with your proposed cannabis business. Let Massachusetts be a lesson that your ties to local pols and the state should be real.

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