House Bill Gives Illinois Hope for Medical Marijuana

Things are still touch and go in Illinois as the state’s medical marijuana pilot program slogs on through litigation. The program has been mired in controversy over the licensing process, which some applicants believe was improperly handled. While the legal battle plays out in court, the clock is slowly ticking for the program as we inch ever closer to the sunset date with very little progress to show for.

Earlier this week, the state of Illinois turned over 13,000 pages of documents to attorneys representing the companies that are suing the state over the licensing process, which is unprecedented. John Rooks is an attorney representing one of the chief complainants in the suit, Chicago-based PM Rx LLC.  Speaking with CBS News, Rooks discussed the document turnover and what it means for his case.

“I’m pleased that the court is going to allow us to investigate what really occurred,” Rooks said. “It’s the only way to know whether the applications were scored consistent with the law.” Unfortunately, Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy set an “attorneys’ eyes only” restriction on the documents, which means neither journalists nor the general public will be able to review the documents.

Rooks revealed to the media that the documents he acquired contained blacked out names and addresses, which suggests that the state released redacted versions of the documents. Rooks said that he would pursue obtaining full versions of the released documents, even if he has to go to court to get them.

While litigation slows down the implementation process, state legislators are working on a bill that would extend the life of the struggling medical marijuana program. When the legislature passed medical marijuana in 2013, the original bill contained a sunset clause that would end the program on January 1, 2018, unless renewed by the legislature.

Sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang, sponsor of the original bill, House Bill 3299 would extend the expiration date of the medical marijuana program by four years after the initial opening of the first dispensary. The bill would also extend the expiration date of medical marijuana cards, issued before the opening of the first dispensary, by one year.

The bill has already passed in the House and is soon expected to head to the Senate floor. Although it stands a good chance of passing in the Senate, there is a chance that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner might veto the bill.

“The governor believes there is a lot of time left to evaluate a pilot program, and we should not extend the program until it has been fully evaluated,” said Catherine Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Rauner administration.

With little hope of a swift end to the mounting legal battle, the best chance for Illinois’ medical marijuana program is the passage of HB 3299. Without a safety net in place, lengthy litigation will almost surely doom the program to a late rollout and a short life.

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