Many marijuana businesses in Illinois fear they wont' be ready for recreational sales on Jan. 1

Ally Marotti, Dan Petrella and Jamie Munks, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

The rollout of the state's medical marijuana pilot program, for example, was anything but smooth.

The law authorizing the sale of pot to patients with certain medical conditions took effect Jan. 1, 2014, but the first medical dispensaries didn't open until early November 2015.

Before that, the rollout of video gambling was slowed by lengthy reviews of businesses seeking to participate in the new industry and problems with the bidding process for a contact to operate central computer system to monitor the gambling terminals. It took more than three years for video poker machines to go live.

Sponsors had that history in mind as they crafted the legislation, choosing to build the new recreational marijuana industry out of the existing medical sector, cutting down on the time it would take the state to vet the initial license applications.

There's no doubt that at least some dispensaries will be open for recreational sales on Jan. 1, but Stone from Ascend Illinois said he won't be surprised if many are not.

Theoretically, 110 dispensaries could start recreational sales Jan. 1 -- if each of the 55 existing medical dispensaries were awarded licenses to sell it from their storefronts and a secondary location. So far, the state has issued five licenses to sell from existing dispensaries, including the one in Naperville that, as it stands, can't be used.

"If you don't have all the places up and running, are you going to be able to meet demand for the potential customer base you're going to have come Jan. 1?" Stone said.

Another issue is supply. The law says operators must ensure they have enough marijuana for medical patients. But Zachary Zises, who owns Dispensary 33 in Chicago, said his "concern is that medical patients will not be given access to the same quality of product that they are used to, and that the medical program stands a good chance of suffering for several months while supply catches up to demand."

The law requires growers to continue producing a monthly supply of products for medical customers equivalent to what they were producing in the six months before the recreational pot law was signed in June. Dispensaries also are required to have "an uninterrupted supply" of products similar to those they sold during the same period.

Dispensaries that fail to keep enough product on hand to meet the demand from medical customers could be issued citations and fined up $10,000 for each occurrence.

The intent of the legislation was to ensure medical patients are prioritized if there's a supply shortage, Cassidy said.


"In fact, we tweaked that language several times to make sure that we were as explicit as we could be, that it's not just quantity, it's variety, that kind of stuff, to make sure folks have access," Cassidy said. "And, you know, every single state that has thrown this switch has had shortages, and what we're trying to do is avoid that, to the extent we can."

Last month, Pritzker signed a separate bill expanding and making permanent the state's medical marijuana program. Patients with a range of qualifying conditions, such as cancer, Parkinson's disease, autism and anorexia, are eligible to participate in the state's medical program.

Cassidy acknowledged the "aggressive timeline" of the recreational program's rollout, but said she thinks "we're still on track."

"People are concerned, obviously. And I get that -- I hear from people every day," she said.

Industry representatives have scheduled a meeting with the Pritzker administration Tuesday to discuss their concerns and seek clarification on some of the rules and regulations as they prepare for the first day of legal recreational sales, said Pam Althoff, a former Republican state senator who is now executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois.

"This is a highly regulated industry," Althoff said. "You don't walk into a building and flip on the lights and say, 'OK, we're ready to operate.'"

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