Advisers: Proposed marijuana rules are fair

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 11:37 p.m.CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Advisers to businesses hoping to get into Illinois’ medical marijuana pilot program say the proposed rules for getting into the industry would be financially burdensome but fair and likely wouldn’t hinder the application process, which is expected to be highly competitive.

The state’s revenue, agriculture, and financial and professional regulation departments Friday released proposed regulations for the new program. Public comments on the proposed rules will be taken until Feb. 27.

Consultants and lawyers for potential medical marijuana business owners say the expensive, rigorous process is in line with other states. But some users are concerned the large businesses likely to own dispensaries and cultivation centers may not produce a cheaper and high-quality medicine for consumers.

Applicants for retail dispensary stores would need $400,000 on hand, with verification of how they acquired the money. The proposed rules also call for about $50,000 in application, registration and annual fees.

“Clearly, what the state of Illinois is attempting to do is stop people who have income coming in from elicit sources like the drug trade,” said Nicholas Williams, an attorney for HW Holdings in Bloomington who owns medical supply stores in the region. He said his company is interested in expanding to medical marijuana dispensaries.

He called the application “beyond complex” and expects it to likely require hundreds of pages of business plans. He said the selection process will be competitive.

“You better know the color of the paint on the walls, otherwise you’re going to have trouble getting picked,” Williams said.

The proposed rules also say that 21 of the 60 dispensaries required under the law would be outside of the Chicago area.

The application process for cultivation centers is similar. The state would charge a $100,000 annual renewal permit fee and $25,000 application fee under the proposed rules. No single person or entity would be allowed to have more than three cultivation center permits. They’ll need $250,000 in liquid assets available.

Bradley Vallerius, a consultant for medical marijuana business owners, said these rules are fair and similar to states such as Colorado and Massachusetts. Vallerius, who wrote a book on Illinois medical marijuana law, is working to pool together different people and businesses to own a cultivation center. He said he is focused more on central and southern Illinois districts because the Chicago area is likely to be very competitive.

But Julie Falco, who uses cannabis to treat her multiple sclerosis, fears the rules will make the drug too pricey. She said higher state costs for businesses could mean more expenses for marijuana users.

“It’s definitely the concern amongst a lot of patients,” Falco said. “Are we going to get a reasonable amount of medicine that we have to completely break the bank on?”

The Department of Public Health has issued proposed regulations that would require medical marijuana patients to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check and pay $150 a year to get special photo identification.

“It’s clear this is a merit-based system. This is not, ‘Hey, I’ve got some money. I qualify for it. Pull my name out of a hat.’ There is going to be a rigorous review of applications,” Williams said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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