CHICAGO – Illinois regulators crafting the first rules for the state's new medical marijuana industry have lowered patient fees and deleted a section that had angered gun owners — changes that are going down well with the law's supporters.
But would-be cannabis entrepreneurs say state-mandated financial obligations in the revised preliminary rules unveiled Friday are discouraging, if not prohibitive.
"Now that we've seen the financial requirements, there may be people on the fence who are saying, 'All right, I'm out,'" said Nick Williams, a partner in a new company founded by owners of a Bloomington-based eyeglasses chain. The partners plan to apply for a medical marijuana dispensary license, using their experience running 22 eyeglasses dispensaries in three states.
They're worried the cash requirements will squeeze out all but a few growers and those who can afford to get into the business will charge exorbitant prices. The state's new law allows only licensed cultivation centers to grow medical marijuana, and patients won't be allowed to grow their own.
Proposed rules require growers to pay $225,000 in first-year fees, have $500,000 on hand and obtain a $2 million escrow account or surety bond.
Patients would pay $100 a year to apply for a medical marijuana card. Disabled people and veterans would pay $50 annually. The fees were reduced from the $150 and $75 first proposed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Guns had overshadowed other issues when the draft regulations were introduced in January. Some patients had said they would continue to use marijuana illegally rather than give up their firearms owners ID cards, as the draft rules had first required. Complaints poured in from gun owners. Many said their rights were being trampled.
"I'm happy to see that they have changed the provision," said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, who sponsored the medical cannabis legislation and sits on the committee that will vote on the rules. "I did ask them to remove it. I'm not the only person who did."
The removal of the gun language was greeted warmly by advocates for patients. "Anything that makes it less burdensome for the patients is always a good thing," said Julie Falco, of Chicago, who speaks openly about how she has used cannabis to control her pain from multiple sclerosis.
The public has 45 days to comment on the current draft rules, which lay out how entrepreneurs can apply for a limited number of licenses to grow or sell cannabis products.
Other changes include:
— Prohibiting cannabis packaging with cartoons, the Illinois flag or any images other than a grower's logo. Products couldn't resemble "a commercially available candy."
— Nurses and patients added to 15-member advisory board for reviewing petitions on adding medical conditions approved for marijuana.
— The new draft rules state several times that cannabis is a controlled substance under federal law and that growing, distributing or possessing it, except through a federally approved research program, violates federal law.