Medical Marijuana in Illinois: A Look Back and A Look Forward

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program becoming law. Much was accomplished in 2014: potential patients began to file applications for medical marijuana cards; potential cultivation centers and dispensaries filed applications for their respective licenses; a significant amendment to the law was enacted. Below is a quick update on where things stand now.

Cultivation and Dispensary Licenses: Contrary to expectations, licenses for cultivation centers and dispensaries were not issued before the end of 2014. The State confirmed in an announcement on December 30, 2014, that it continues to evaluate all applications and will post an announcement on its website when it is in a position to issue licenses. One might expect the licenses to be issued before January 12, 2015, when Governor-elect Bruce Rauner takes office. We are monitoring the situation daily, and are sure the hundreds of other applicants are doing the same.

Patient Registry Cards: Any potentially qualifying patient may now apply for a patient registry card (including minors; addressed below) on the State’s website. Prior to January 1, 2015, the application window was divided into two periods, depending on the first letter in an applicant’s surname. The State confirmed in early December that 11,000 people had started an online application, with only 1,600 applicants actually filing any paperwork. The State further confirmed in early December that 600 patient applications had been approved, up from only 230 in early November. The low number of approved applications may be due to the fact that general, chronic pain is not a qualifying condition under Illinois law, unlike in many other states with legal medical cannabis. We suspect it may also have to do with physicians’ anxiety over approving MMJ for their patients in this “strictest in nation” regime. All applications filed during the initial window of September 1 through December 31 should be reviewed by the first week of February 2015. We should have a better idea of the approval ratio at that time, but this is certainly an issue to keep a close eye on. A few hundred patients will not support a medical cannabis industry in Illinois.

Minors: As of January 1, 2015, the State will accept applications from a person under the age of 18 that may become a qualifying patient, thanks to an amendment to the original Pilot Program law adopted in 2014. That amendment expressly extended the benefits of the law to minors suffering from seizure conditions, including epilepsy (seizure conditions are now also a qualifying condition for adults), but also authorized the Department of Public Health to develop rules for approving minors with any of the other roughly 40 qualifying conditions for MMJ. Those rules were issued just last week. Qualifying minors will not be allowed to smoke raw cannabis like an adult, but rather may consume THC-infused edibles. Minors must also secure parental approval, in addition to following all the other rules of the Program.

The New Governor: Illinois’ governor-elect, Bruce Rauner, will take office on January 12, 2015. Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program may move forward differently under Governor Rauner than it would have under Governor Quinn. Mr. Rauner stated during his campaign that he would have vetoed the Pilot Program bill. He took the position that the license issuance process was secretive and ripe for corruption, and that the licenses should be auctioned off to the highest bidder in a public auction. The governor-elect will not be able to unilaterally repeal the Pilot Program, but he will have the remainder of the Program’s existence to exert his influence, not to mention the possibility of vetoing its re-authorization.

2015 looks to be an interesting year for medical cannabis in Illinois. We will be providing updates.