The Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program and launch of Women Grow Chicago
Over the years I have read plenty of books and articles on emerging legal fields and professional growth, but had little exposure to Illinois attorneys focusing on the medical cannabis pilot program. I certainly did not anticipate the expansion of my practice to include advising cultivation center and dispensary applicants as a medical cannabis (marijuana) attorney. It has been an interesting personal growth experience and career expansion from the world of environmental law, creditor’s rights/banking, and commercial litigation.
When I first began researching medical cannabis and how it could impact our communities, I watched a TedX talk by Josh Stanley at TEDxBoulder. His TED talk addressed how medical marijuana has been used to treat pediatric epilepsy.1 Mr. Stanley opened my eyes to a specific cannabis strain called “Charlotte’s Web” and how it has helped Charlotte Figi (age 7) control her epileptic seizures.2 The strain is processed into a marijuana extract that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) content called Realm Oil and Alepsia. It does not induce the “high” typically associated with recreational marijuana strains.
On July 20, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to add the treatment of adults and children with seizures to the state’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.2
Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Background
On January 1, 2014, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (410 ILCS 130/) officially took effect and created a four-year pilot program with an automatic sunset if it is not renewed by the end of 2017. On July 15, 2014, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules approved the rules for the medical cannabis pilot program from the Departments of Agriculture, Financial and Professional Regulation, Public Health, and Revenue.
The Act and the corresponding rules set forth strict restrictions on the cultivation centers (“grow facilities”) and dispensaries (“legal retailers”) to ensure professional licensing, 24-hour surveillance and inventory control. There will be 22 cultivation centers – one for each State Police District and each center must comply with the strict rules established by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. There will be no more than 60 licensed dispensaries, which must comply with strict rules established by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Cultivation center and dispensary applicants must comply with local zoning laws, and be located at least 2,500 feet from day care centers and schools.
Illinois law does not permit patients or caregivers to cultivate cannabis and requires eligible patients to apply for medical cannabis registration through the Illinois Department of Public Health. The law specifies 35 medical conditions for eligibility, such as muscular dystrophy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS.
Bonus Points: Cultivation and Dispensary Entrepreneurs and the Town Hall Experience
In August 2014, the State agencies held three town hall meetings to answer any questions about the applications that may arise from those interested in applying as a patient/caregiver, for a cultivation center permit, or for a dispensary license. Cultivation and dispensary applications include a “bonus category section” in which applicants can provide verification that they are “minority-owned, female-owned, veteran-owned, or disabled person-owned.” One of my female colleagues attended two of the town hall meetings in Southern and Central Illinois and had many new entrepreneurial “friends” approach her (perhaps to gather “bonus points”). I attended the Chicago town hall meeting along with 500 other curious individuals and had a similar experience. During one of the session breaks, a male entrepreneur from Colorado approached me and said (in not so nice terms) that this is the only industry that is not blocking women and that I should attend his $299 business seminar. I kindly declined the offer. Instead, I spent some time researching women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry and learned about the recent launch of a professional organization -- Women Grow.4
Women Grow was created to connect, educate, inspire and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders by creating programs, community and events for aspiring and current business executives. Founded in 2014 in Denver, Women Grow serves as a catalyst for women to influence and succeed in the cannabis industry as the end of marijuana prohibition occurs on a national scale. On November 6, 2014, the Chicago chapter of Women Grow will host its first chapter organizational meeting in Chicago.5 We are looking for volunteers who are interested in assisting with the Chicago Chapter launch.
Current Status of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program
The application window for dispensary and cultivation center applicants was Monday, September 8, 2014 through Monday, September 22, 2014.6 For cultivation centers, each permit application included a non-refundable application fee of $25,000 and if selected, a first-year registration fee of $200,000. Dispensary applications included a $5,000 non-refundable application fee. On October 2, 2014, the Illinois Department of Agriculture reported that it received a total of 159 cultivation center application submissions. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation reported a total of 214 dispensary applications. Overall, the two agencies collected more than $5 million in the two-week application period. The fees will help keep the pilot program self-funded and it has been reported that the State plans to award the licenses before the end of the year.7