When Illinois state lawmakers are back in Springfield for the fall veto session in October and November they are expected to take up issues dealing with recreational cannabis as the state prepares for retail sales to start Jan. 1.
The Illinois Municipal League and others have talked about the need for followup legislation to give local authorities oversight over a provision of the recreational cannabis law that allows medical cannabis patients to grow up to five plants at home. It’s not clear if that legislation will advance.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said things are coming together for retail sales for adults to begin Jan. 1. When the legislation passed in May, lawmakers predicted some issues would surface before the law goes into effect on the first day of 2020. A former lawmaker-turned cannabis industry representative said an interpretation issue has cropped up. And lawmakers may have to address the unintended consequences in the nexus of blocking sales of smokable products to adults younger 21 under the state's new Tobacco 21 law and medical cannabis rules.
The state’s pilot medical cannabis program has allowed cannabis dispensaries for years in Illinois. Pritzker made the pilot program permanent when he signed a measure this month. And the adult-use bill he signed earlier this summer allows medical operators to be the first to sell recreational cannabis. The governor said that should make the rollout of the first round of recreational retail sales go smoothly.
“It’s a de novo set of regulations that we’re going to be putting forward for adult-use cannabis, but it makes it easier as the licensees are already abiding by a very strict set of rules,” Pritzker said.
Municipalities can use local zoning ordinances to control recreational cannabis sales within their jurisdictions. Municipalities can block recreational cannabis sales through those zoning ordinances and some towns have already indicated they plan to do so.
Pam Althof, a former state Senator who now works for an association supporting the cannabis industry, said the law was very precise for the first round. But, there’s an issue with the state’s interpretation of locations where medical operators can sell recreational cannabis products.
She said the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is interpreting the location of sales to be the actual physical address of a dispensary, rather than the broader medical dispensary district where the dispensary is located. That could lead to product shortages.
“We may run into some significant shortfalls if we don’t have numerous dispensaries,” Althof said.
The governor said he remained optimistic.
“I feel good, the IDFPR is doing a terrific job, we have multiple agencies that are on top of this, we have a team that’s focused on these rules, so I think we’re going to get there,” Pritzker said.
Althof said she was wary of having to wait to resolve the issue during the veto session, which begins in October.
Supporters of the adult-use cannabis law said it is important to not negatively impact the medical cannabis program when recreational sales begin. While the adult-use cannabis law doesn’t, the Tobacco 21 law could in some circumstances.
Hope Smith said her 19-year-old daughter uses medical cannabis to alleviate a qualifying medical condition. She said her daughter was able to get more precise doses of the medicine by vaping or smoking it as opposed to other cannabis products.
After the governor signed the medical cannabis expansion measure making the pilot program permanent and adding conditions, Smith said she was told by her dispensary that the updated law no longer allows the sale of smokable products to adults younger than 21.
Smith said that needs to change for her daughter’s sake.
“The medical marijuana and dispensaries, and the diseases, for people that are able to buy it and are able to get the right medicine, I don’t want my child to turn to buying flower or vape on the street, I don’t want her to use an opioid,” Smith said. “Because those are unsafe.”
State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, sponsored the medical cannabis expansion measure the governor signed.
"There was a good intention behind [the change aligning with Tobacco 21] ... but as with anything, there are unintended consequences with new legislation and I think this is a great example of the potential harm that can happen to individuals when you start to conflate different topics," Morgan said.
He said the unintended consequence of the Tobacco 21 policy being put in the law was something he planned to fix.
Lawmakers are back for three days before Halloween in October and three days after Veterans Day in November.