Medical Marijuana: What Illinois can learn from Colorado

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In January, medical marijuana is coming to Illinois with the most tightly regulated plan in the nation.

But with two months to go, details are lacking about how the sick will get it, where they will find it and how it could change the landscape.

The state is welcoming medical marijuana with great limitations, only 38 illnesses qualify as reasons to get it.

Just how rigid are our rules will be is still being ironed out legislatively.

And because of that, it could be summer, maybe later, before anyone in this state will get their first puff, taste or dose of medical marijuana.

In Colorado, marijuana goes fully “recreational” in January, making it as easy to buy as a bottle of booze if you’re 21 years of age.

WGN’s Julie Unruh traveled to Colorado how that state influenced what Illinois plans to do.

Kayvan Khalatbari owns Denver Relief, a dispensary in downtown Denver. He is a pioneer in the bud business. He not only sells medical marijuana, he grows it too, at a warehouse, a few miles away. He’s required to sell at least 70% of his grow under Colorado law.

Set up like bank tellers, the bud-tenders are happy to show a patient all sorts of medicine, much of which doesn`t resemble traditional medicine at all.

Medical marijuana comes in many forms: chocolates, gummies, suckers, seeds and nuts, even butter and olive oil and don`t forget the fruity beverages, all infused with cannabis.

For the old school smokers, you can buy a pre-roll or joint, or just buy a bag of buds.

You cannot smoke in the shop, you must buy it and take it home. That’s the law in Colorado and it will be the law in Illinois, too.

2 oz of cannabis products will cost a patient, with no help from insurance, $800-900 dollars. It should last 1-2 weeks.

Between 500 and 600 centers have popped up all over Colorado in recent years. There are also 800 plus cultivation centers in Colorado where the plants are grown.

By comparison, Illinois legislators have approved only 60 dispensaries and 22 cultivation center spread out over the 22 state police districts.

Representative Lou Lang is the sponsor of House Bill 1 in Illinois. He is a champion in the medical marijuana community for getting the bill signed this summer.

“It was important to pass the bill even with a few flaws in it because we have to get the ball rolling to help sick people feel better,” he said.

The few flaws, in Lang`s eyes:

  • Children in Illinois cannot get medical marijuana even with a doctors’  recommendation
  • A densely populated Cook County is allowed only one cultivation center to serve the entire area
  • How do you know when someone is legally impaired? Lang says you don’t and it`s a problem.

As imperfect as it may be, law makers have settled on a field sobriety test. It`s up to the officer who pulled you over to decide if a sobriety test is warranted. Just like in Colorado.

Illinois is greatly restricting how much “medicine” a patient can buy, no matter what form they purchase the plant – only 2.5 oz every two weeks. Legally, Colorado allows 2 oz per transaction- that can be multiple times in one day.

Illinois is requiring testing of these products for potency levels and safety. Colorado does not. And Illinois is requiring all systems be tied into one computer database including sellers, growers and government agencies with oversight. Colorado has no such program, using instead a lot of self-regulation.

Illinois will be a 4-year pilot program only.  But advocates hope it will be extended with fewer limitation in 2018.

While the plan is to make the “medicine” “recreational” in places like Colorado, that is not necessarily the endgame in Illinois.  At least not right now.

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