Illinois remains the epicenter of marijuana legalization in 2019. During August alone, Illinois has passed new legislation expanding and cementing its medical marijuana program, and shown necessary flexibility as it attempts to get its recreational market off the ground by January 1, 2020.
On the medical side, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 2023, which expands and makes permanent the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act in Illinois. The law adds 11 new conditions for eligibility purposes: autism, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, osteoarthritis, anorexia nervosa, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Neuro-Behcet’s Autoimmune Disease, neuropathy, polycystic kidney disease, and superior canal dehiscence syndrome. This brings the total qualifying medical conditions to 52. The law also now allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify applicants for the program. Previously, only doctors were permitted to certify applicants.
On the recreational side, state officials are working diligently to get the recreational market up and running. The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, signed into law on June 25th, 2019, gave existing medical dispensaries and cultivation facilities in Illinois a direct path to obtain recreational licenses before new entrants. The existing 55 medical-marijuana dispensaries have 60 days, through August 24th, 2019, to apply for both a license to dispense recreational marijuana from their existing site and for a second license to dispense recreational marijuana from a secondary location.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the early license approval process has created some unexpected problems. For example, Cresco Labs hopes to relocate one of its existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Wrigleyville to a more accessible and larger location a few blocks away. The new location would be better suited to serve the much larger recreational customer base starting January 1, 2020. The Act, however, provides that “[a]ny medical cannabis dispensing location in operation on the effective date of this act” is eligible for an early approval recreational license. If read strictly, the Act arguably prevents Cresco from obtaining an early approval license to dispense recreational marijuana from its proposed new location, because that new location would not have been in “operation” on the effective date of the Act.
Illinois legislators and regulators appear tuned in to the concerns of the marijuana industry. Sen. Heather Steans, a key architect of the Act, has floated the possibility of a “trailer bill” to address this and some of the industry’s other practical concerns which were overlooked in the Act. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees marijuana dispensaries, also recently indicated that it would accept early approval applications until March 17, 2021—expanding the original two month period by over 24 months. This should allow all existing operators plenty of time to get their ducks in a row and begin selling recreational marijuana.
It is not surprising that the Act is not perfect, but it is good to see that Illinois officials remain receptive and are willing to address issues as they arise. We are similarly invested, and will continue to monitor and report on developments as Illinois approaches the January 1, 2020 go live date. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates.