As Illinois prepares to launch its medical marijuana program, the man with what some would say has the unenviable job of helming that launch says he believes the state has tried to think of everything to make certain that fraud is kept out and that the medicine gets to those who truly need it.
“We’ve really considered the difficulties other states have faced,” said Robert Morgan, the medical cannabis director for the Illinois Department of Health. “I think already we’re starting it as one of the most regulated programs in the entire country.”
In the process, the state developed rigorous standards, which require background checks of all employees, both at growing sites and dispensaries as well as 24-hour video monitoring of plants as they grow, with chain-of-custody requirements from the seed stage all the way to product delivery.
“From the moment they plant the seeds, we’re going to know where the product is,” Morgan said. “The volume, we’re going to know it to the 'T' of the actual clone to be able to trace back where that product came from to the sale to the dispensaries and the patients.”
Ahem. About those seeds.
You can’t transport them across state lines. You can’t ship them by FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. You can’t bring them in from another country. After all, marijuana is, still officially, an illegal drug in the eyes of the federal government.
So how does Illinois deal with the issue of starting a new crop where the seeds cannot be brought into the state legally?
They don’t. Everyone has agreed to look the other way.
“We purposely left the bill silent,” said State Representative Louis Lang, the author of the medical marijuana act. “It’s either grown illegally in Illinois or brought in inappropriately.”
“Admittedly, the first seed is not technically a legal seed,” he said. “There is no way to write this.”
It’s being called the “magic beans” scenario. Once the plants begin to thrive, they will supply their own seeds, but before that, well, let’s just say that somehow they will come into being.
“All the federal agencies are really looking to the states to implement it in a strong way,” Morgan said. “But there continues to be tension with the federal government.”
Across Illinois, the state has received 159 applications for cultivation centers and 214 for dispensaries. Officials say they expect the first licenses to be awarded before year’s end.