The Future of Marijuana in Illinois

Several of our Chicago attorneys (including me) attended the recent NCIA member reception in Chicago, where the hot topic of conversation was not the MMJ application process going on right now, but rather what happens next. Discussions seemed to focus on three topics:

  • What’s going to happen with Illinois’ current Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act? For now at least, the answer seems to be incremental change. We’ve already seen some improvements made to the Act, such as the passage of SB 2636, which added seizures to the list of conditions qualifying patients for MMJ in Illinois. It is anticipated that there will be additional movement on getting minors with the most severe conditions access to MMJ. The state is also at work convening a board to review petitions for additions to the list of debilitating conditions. It may not get traction right away, but expect proposed legislation to authorize additional grower and dispensary licenses, beyond the respective 21 and 60 licenses that will be initially awarded.
  • When will Illinois fully legalize marijuana? Notice we’ve moved past even talking about IF legalization will happen to talking about WHEN it will happen. The most optimistic of attendees believe we could see some change on the federal level in the middle of the next presidential administration (circa 2018). Some suggested the Obama administration might make some further inroads on banking and enforcement policies after the November mid-term elections, but few see him making sweeping change — not wanting to be remembered only for having legalized pot. Viewed differently though, ending the wasteful war on drugs isn’t a terrible legacy. Everyone was in agreement that a conservative in the White House in 2016 could bring legalization efforts across the country to a halt, even in defiance of ever-increasing popular support for legalization.
  • What did Rauner say? Oh no. Illinois is in the midst of a governor’s race (rife with name-calling and other pettiness) between incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. Rauner has spoken out against the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, saying he would have vetoed the measure. He also has stated that he would scrap the current application process and instead hold an auction to sell licenses to the highest bidder – not a surprising statement coming from a venture capitalist. But would such a system even address Rauner’s criticism that the application process is too susceptible to corruption? Who would benefit from a bidding war? The state coffers, yes, but not patients. Some in attendance at the reception thought Rauner’s statements might have been a red herring for some other policy pronouncement later in the race, but many feared Rauner was just beating around the bush, and that, if elected, he would scrap the pilot program altogether – prevent Department of Public Health from issuing patient cards, and direct law enforcement to shut down the businesses. A poll released last week shows Quinn with a narrow margin over Rauner, but the race seemingly has some canna advocates sweating.

Readers, what are you and your colleagues discussing or hearing about cannabis in Illinois?