CHICAGO — Illinois has become the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana, with some of the strictest standards in the nation. But the proposal will take many months to set into motion because of complex rules and regulations. Here’s a closer look at the details:
Q: When will medical marijuana be available for purchase in Illinois?
A: No one knows for sure, but estimates are several months to more than a year after the law takes effect Jan. 1. That’s because three state agencies, the departments of Public Health, Agriculture and Financial and Professional Regulation, must draft rules for patients, growers and dispensaries. Then the rules must be approved by a legislative committee. Next comes issuing permits and setting up the 22 so-called cultivation centers where the plants will be grown. They’ll be set up in each Illinois State Police district, and state authorities will review security plans. The marijuana will be sold in up to 60 dispensaries. Nineteen other states and Washington, D.C., have implemented medical marijuana laws but implementation time has varied greatly. The longest was Washington, D.C., where medical marijuana was available for purchase just last month, 15 years after voters approved. Maine took less than a year. New Jersey took about three years and still only one dispensary is open in the state.
Q: Who will be able to obtain marijuana?
A: Only seriously ill patients who have a longstanding relationship with a doctor will be able to apply for a state ID card. The new law specifically lists dozens of qualifying illnesses and diseases, including lupus, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis. Patients will be limited to 2.5 ounces every two weeks. No one under 18 years old will be eligible.
Q: Can people be arrested for having medical marijuana?
A: Patients who are registered with the state can’t be arrested or charged for using medical marijuana, if they’re using it in compliance with the law. However, employers still can maintain drug policies in the workplace, meaning someone using medical marijuana could face consequences for failing a drug test.
Q: What makes Illinois’ new law so tough?
A: The state will require background checks for patients, caregivers and all staff members at dispensaries and growing centers. Cultivation centers will be under 24-hour video surveillance. Illinois won’t allow it to be grown at home, and there’s no reciprocity with other states that allow medical marijuana.
Q: Were there efforts to fight this bill?
A: Yes. Some anti-crime groups have expressed concerns that medical marijuana could lead to an increase in nonmedical use, particularly among teens. The nongovernmental Chicago Crime Commission, which examines crime trends, says marijuana could end up in the wrong hands. Police also have opposed the measure, saying it complicates field sobriety testing.
Q: Will this create new jobs and businesses?
A: State and industry officials say yes. Quinn’s office estimates hundreds of new jobs, with staff members at each growing center and dispensary. Industry officials started gearing up for legalized medical marijuana even before Quinn signed it. The National Cannabis Industry Association has planned a symposium later this month for potential investors and business owners. They include Genifer Murray, who runs Denver-based CannLabs Inc. Her business provides potency testing, so people know how much to use. She wants to expand her business in Illinois.
“I am just a big fan of this plant, for all kinds of things,” she said. “I want to go to every place I can to help spread the correct information about cannabis.”
Q: Will Illinois legalize marijuana for recreational use?
A: Not any time soon. Illinois’ new law for medical marijuana is for a four-year pilot program; lawmakers will have to vote on it again to make it permanent. Advocates have focused on the bill’s strict guidelines for very sick people. When asked about the potential for recreational use, Quinn said the focus right now is medical and “patient-centered.”
“This is the right thing to do for today and that’s what I’m focused on,” he said. “I think that’s the best way to go.”