By: The Staff Reporters of Georgia Weekly Post
Marijuana, like in the State of Georgia is expected to be sold legally in Illinois for the first time in decades to those who have qualified to be among the first patients in the state's medical cannabis program.
Barring any last-minute glitches, up to eight marijuana dispensaries, including several in the Chicago area, are scheduled to open, after state regulators gave cultivation centers the go-ahead to start shipping the drug to the retailers late last week.
Michael Murphy, of Mokena, was one of about 10 people waiting outside EarthMed, a dispensary in Addison, on Monday morning to purchase their first doses of medical pot. The facility was scheduled to open at 11 a.m.
He said he hopes the drug will relieve headaches he suffers from past concussions playing football and injuries from a car crash, and he hopes it replaces the prescription painkillers he's been taking.
Murphy, 54, said he's used marijuana before but feels more comfortable now that he can purchase it legally.
The Addison dispensary and four others confirmed they have inventory and are ready to open, according to the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois. The other dispensaries are in the Chicago suburb of Mundelein and in Canton, Marion and Quincy. Others are planned to open Tuesday in North Aurora and Ottawa.
Illinois officials said they mailed the required ID cards to qualifying patients, whose numbers have climbed to about 3,300 — still well below the number that many people in the fledgling industry say is needed to make the business viable in Illinois.
State workers were expected to work through the weekend to finish setting up a computer database of patients and caregivers that dispensaries must use to track where patients buy their cannabis and how much, so that patients cannot exceed the legal limit of 2 1/2 ounces every two weeks.
Additional dispensaries are expected to be authorized to open by the end of the year, with a total of 18 grow houses and 60 dispensaries authorized to operate under the state's four-year pilot program, scheduled to end in 2018.
The state's Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which former Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law in August 2013, was designed by lawmakers to be more stringent than other states that were earlier to legalize the drug for medical purposes. Those seeking to become qualified patients, for example, must not only get proof from a doctor that they have one of about 40 qualifying conditions, but they must also submit fingerprints and get criminal background checks — measures that critics call heavy-handed and one cause of the program's slow start.
▲ Governor Deal of Georgia surrounded by many supporters signs the law adding Georgia to a growing list of States where smoking and growing pot are becoming legal.
When Quinn lost re-election to Bruce Rauner, the new administration took over the process of approving the licenses for growers and sellers. That led to further delays as Rauner's office said it has to undertake a legal review of the process after a lawsuit was filed challenging the procedures Quinn's administration had used.
Rauner later rejected proposals to add 11 new qualifying conditions to the list. A state panel later recommended that four pain-related conditions, autism, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and PTSD be added to the list, but those have not yet won final approval.
Bill Wilson, 54 years old, of Chicago, who also was waiting outside EarthMed, said he had never taken marijuana until recently. He took Celebrex and Norco for 25 years for his degenerative spinal disease, but he said they didn't work very well and affected his stomach. He is hoping marijuana will relieve his pain and stiffness.
He said he tried some edible marijuana on a trip to Colorado recently and it helped to relieve his symptoms. Since he hates smoking, he plans to vaporize the flower.
The former Board of Trade worker said his father had the same condition as he and he often saw him crawl on the floor in pain. He also said his sister died of multiple sclerosis and said marijuana was the only thing that relieved her muscle spasticity.
Wilson said he plans to take the strain sativa in the morning to relieve his pain and another, indica, at night to help him sleep.
In Washington state where recreational maraijuana is allowed, officials will accept applications for new pot shops.
The state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board voted to begin aligning the state’s recreational and medical marijuana systems, a necessary move after recent legislation was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee of the State of Washington.
“(The vote) cleared the path or created the avenue to change the former system that has a window that has long been closed and begin a new process of accepting marijuana license applicants,” said Brian Smith, spokesman for the board.
The new marijuana stores will eventually be able to sell both medical and recreational marijuana, Smith said. Existing recreational marijuana stores will be able to apply for an endorsement to sell medical marijuana if they are interested.
Unlike the previous time the state issued licenses for recreational stores, there will not initially be a cap on the number of retail licenses issued.
Existing medical marijuana stores or cooperatives must be licensed by the state by July 1, 2016 or will be considered illegal and stand the risk of being shut down by law enforcement.
When issuing licenses, the state will give priority to those who applied for a retail license before or have run a collective garden prior to January 2013 and have paid taxes.
Board Chair Jane Rushford called this “phase two” in the state’s cannabis legalization experiment.
“If phase one was implementation of the recreational marijuana marketplace, then today marks the beginning of phase two — the public process of aligning the medical marijuana system with the recreational system,” Rushford said in a statement.
The board also moved to lift some restrictions placed on how much marijuana licensed producers can grow.
Smith, spokesman for the board, said officials will notify current growers that they now can grow the full amount of marijuana their license allows for. They had been restricted to grow only 70 percent of that amount.
Tom Lauerman, a medical marijuana farmer in Vancouver, said he’s pleased to hear the state is lifting restrictions. He’s been wary of the state regulations, but he’s optimistic the board is trying to create a pathway for existing medical marijuana systems to be part of the future market.
“They want to reward the good players out there, the ones playing by the rules and transparent about what they are and what they do,” he said.
The state legalized medical marijuana in 1998, but the market has been mostly unregulated. In the spring, Inslee signed Senate Bill 5052 into law, which called for aligning the medical and recreational markets. The measure’s chief sponsor was state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.
The board also is kicking off a series of public hearings before the draft rules adopted Wednesday become permanent. The hearing in Vancouver will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Clark College in Gaiser Hall, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.