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Public shows interest in Ill. medical cannabis

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 11:05 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 11:06 p.m. CST

CHICAGO – It’s a surprising sentiment to find in a government document: “Marijuana frees the mind and brings inner peace.”

But that’s the blissed-out nature of at least a portion of the public comments pouring into Illinois government agencies about the state’s new medical marijuana program.

Others submitted business-realm rants about the “exorbitant startup costs” and the “outrageous, ridiculous, unworkable and outdated” requirements in draft rules.

The “inner peace” line is contained in a one-page summary of public comments to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which cited patient privacy as its reason not to disclose the more than 400 written comments it’s received. Three other agencies released 100 pages of citizen input in response to a public records request from The Associated Press.

A new state law legalizes medical marijuana in a four-year pilot project with some of the strictest standards in the nation, but the system won’t be up and running until later this year.

First, regulators are reviewing feedback received from would-be growers, dispensary owners and patients. The agencies next will submit their proposed regulations to a legislative committee for review. Then more public comments will be heard.

For now, the comments are full of questions about how the program will work. Some reflect an entrepreneurial eagerness to get involved.

Bob Morgan, coordinator of the state’s medical marijuana program, answered a few questions pulled from the public feedback during an interview. Here are edited excerpts:

Q: Can patients grow their own?

A: They cannot grow their own medical cannabis. Only a registered cultivation center may, according to the new law.

Q: Can a parent or guardian sign up a special needs adult child for medical cannabis?

A: Anyone under the age of 18 cannot be an eligible patient. But anyone 18 and older – special needs or not – can be. Anyone who is a special needs adult would go with their caregiver to a physician’s office and have the physician certify their qualifying condition and then send in the paperwork.

Q: What is the minimum age requirement for a qualifying patient and for a designated caregiver?

A: It’s 18 and over for a patient. A caregiver has to be a minimum of 21 years old, according to the law.

Q: If an employer requires a drug test, what would the implications of disclosure be for the potential employee who is a medical cannabis user?

A: The law allows employers with drug-free workplace policies to continue to use them. It’s ultimately going to be a question of impairment. These types of situations already occur today, whether it’s somebody on Vicodin or another prescription drug that could impair them in the workplace. We imagine employers will develop policies to address these issues.

Q: The law allows licensing of up to 22 cultivation centers and up to 60 dispensaries in the state. Can a company own a dispensary as well as a cultivation center?

A: Yes, the proposed rules allow a single entity to own up to three cultivation centers and five dispensaries. We took into account how other states have addressed this issue and tried to find the right balance.

Q: Will farmers be able to grow hemp?

A: This law only addresses medicinal cannabis. It does not address industrial hemp, which is currently not legal in Illinois.

Q: Will cultivation centers be able to sell cannabis to dispensaries outside of their district?

A: The rules allow a cultivation to sell to any dispensary in the state.

Q: Do cultivation centers and dispensaries have to be owned by Illinois residents?

A: They do not have to be owned by Illinois residents, but there are several provisions in the rules that allow additional scoring points for applicants with Illinois headquarters and applicants that will generate Illinois-based jobs.

Q: Can a city dictate where dispensaries are located?

A: Local municipalities will certainly be involved in the process. They can impose reasonable restrictions but they cannot outright prohibit the placement. The law says a dispensary cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center or child care facility. Dispensaries cannot be within an area zoned for residential use.

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