The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
How will the new medical marijuana law work? Who qualifies to get it? When will it actually start operating?
The law went into effect January 1, 2014. But that just starts the clock on the 4 months that the Illinois Department of Public Health has to issue the regulations that will detail how the law will actually work.
Until those regulations are in effect, nobody can apply for a license to grow, dispense, or receive medical marijuana. And it appears that it’ll be 180 days after January 1 before the official database of patients, dispensaries, and growers will be ready.
So, June 30, 2014 is probably the very earliest that anyone could legally obtain and consume any medical marijuana in Illinois.
The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act was signed by Gov. Quinn on August 1, 2013. It legalizes the possession and use of marijuana under a doctor’s care.
Eventually, there will be a system where a qualifying patient gets medical marijuana from a registered dispensing organization, who gets their pot from a registered cultivation center.
To become a qualifying patient, you must be at least 18, apply to the Department of Public Health, and pay a fee. That fee has not been set yet, and could be based on your income.
You must clear 2 hurdles to just apply:
- Have your treating M.D. or D.O certify that you have a “debilitating medical condition;” and
- Pass a criminal record check.
The law now lists 33 specific debilitating conditions. Public Health can add more. That list, and other information, can be found at the Marijuana Policy Project.
When Public Health is ready to take applications, they’ll have 30 days to approve or deny them. If you’re approved, you must get a “registry identification card” within 15 days, and go on the confidential database that makes you an officially “registered qualifying patient.”
As a cardholder, you can buy the legally designated adequate supply of 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 2 weeks. Web sources suggest that’s 5 to 10 joints a day, depending on whether they’re half or full gram.
If your doctor says that’s not enough, you can get more. But, you can’t possess more than 2.5 ounces at a time, so you can’t accumulate a stash.
Cardholders must buy from a dispensing organization. The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will register 60 official dispensaries. Each will set its own prices, and collect the 1% sales tax that applies to food and drugs. Colorado collected almost $6 million from medical marijuana sales taxes in FY 2012.
Dispensaries must buy from official cultivation centers. The Department of Agriculture will register 22—one per State Police District. Cultivation centers will collect a 7% excise tax on sales to dispensaries.
Employers can’t refuse to hire cardholding patients, and landlords can’t refuse to rent to them. Employers and landlords don’t, however, have to let patients use marijuana on the job or in their apartment.
The law is a pilot program. If it’s not extended, it will expire automatically on January 1, 2018.