SPRINGFIELD — State officials have launched what could be a lengthy process of setting up a system to allow sick people to legally purchase Illinois-grown pot for medicinal reasons.
Officials in at least four state agencies are beginning to meet to discuss what role they'll have in drafting rules to govern the state's new marijuana law with an eye on taking a final version to lawmakers by May 2014.
Illinois this summer became the 20th state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act permits the use of marijuana by patients with serious medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus and a number of other serious and painful ailments.
The sponsor of the law, state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said he hopes the agencies can issue a draft of their rules before the May deadline.
"I know I've laid some difficult tasks on their plates," Lang said. "I'm just pleased that they're meeting now."
Mike Claffey, a spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn's administration, said there have been several meetings already.
"All agencies tasked with implementation are reviewing Illinois and other states' laws to ensure a successful Illinois program that avoids some of the pitfalls and challenges faced by other medical cannabis programs," he said in a statement.
At the Illinois Department of Public Health, officials are investigating how the agency will oversee the patient and doctor aspects of the law.
For example, after a patient is certified by a doctor, the patient will then send a copy of that certification to Public Health. The agency would then verify the information and issue an identification card.
A patient could not purchase cannabis without the card.
The growing and harvesting of marijuana also would be regulated. The Illinois Department of Agriculture would have to review plans of prospective growers. The agency also will have to select one facility in each of the 22 Illinois State Police districts where growing could be done.
The growing facilities would have 24-hour surveillance and would be under strict rules to regulate their inventories. Once the program is under way, the agency is required to conduct weekly inspections on each of the 22 growers.
Growers and dispensary employees also would have to undergo criminal background checks.
At the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, employees have begun meeting to discuss how the agency will regulate the 60 dispensaries that will be distributing the marijuana.
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The agency plans to hire an employee to oversee the new division, but likely will use an existing template to license and regulate the dispensaries.
"We already license pharmacies so we expect this will be very similar," said spokeswoman Sue Hofer.
Once each agency has put together its piece of the regulatory puzzle, draft rules will be circulated in an effort to compile a final version within 120 days of the law going into effect on Jan. 1.
The rules will then be submitted to a special panel of lawmakers. Once approved on that level, the agencies will begin setting up the system that will allow the agencies to begin licensing growers, dispensers and users.
In the end, it could be the summer of 2014 before ill people will be able to legally purchase cannabis in Illinois.
"I hope this moves faster in order to help the people this law was designed to help," Lang said.