The Players in Illinois Medical Cannabis

Jeremy Unruh
General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, PharmaCann LLC (IL & NY)


In Illinois, the State always gets its say.  There are very few industries that the government doesn't touch.  Medical cannabis is no different.  In fact, the contrary is true:  Regulating medical cannabis in Illinois involves no fewer than six separate state administrative agencies and more "ad hoc" governmental groups.  Here's a brief introduction to how it works:

Two years ago, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.  The bill was signed into law by the governor.  Under the Act, the several agencies that regulate medical cannabis were directed to draft the various rules and regulations that govern the industry.  These regulations fill in the blanks left where the Illinois General Assembly was unable or chose not to legislate the nuts-and-bolts details of the Illinois medical cannabis program.  Of course, that's not unusual.  

Legislatures routinely leave regulatory details to the various administrative agencies that have the operational expertise to manage various sectors of industry.  For example, the experts at the Illinois Department of Public Health know far more about nursing home sanitation and care than does the Illinois General Assembly.  As a result, legislatures tend to create general laws and legal principals, while administrative agencies follow up with regulations about details designed to accomplish those general legal principals. 

In the Illinois medical cannabis scheme, there are several administrative agencies who have a hand in governing our nascent industry:

  • Illinois Department of Agriculture governs the cultivation centers.  Ag sets the rules for cultivation, processing, inventory control, packaging, and security of the 20 or so permitted cultivation centers in Illinois.
  • Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation governs the dispensaries.  IDFPR sets the rules for receipt of product from cultivation centers by dispensaries, the patient and retail record keeping responsibilities, security in the dispensaries, and registration of the 60 or so of the registered dispensing organizations in Illinois.
  • Illinois Department of Public Health governs the patient/physician relationship.  IDPH sets the rules for physician recommendations, patient registration, and also has a small role in inspecting edible processing in in the cultivation centers. 
  • Illinois State Police governs security and enforcement of the rules relating to theft, diversion, or loss of medical cannabis.  Cultivation centers and dispensaries are obligated to allow the ISP 24 hour/7 days per week access to security camera feeds.  
  • Illinois Department of Revenue governs the state taxation of medical cannabis.  
  • Medical Cannabis Pilot Program coordinates the efforts of these agencies.
  • Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is a hand-picked board of citizens, comprised of both medical and non-medical personnel, who hear evidence on new medical conditions and make appropriate recommendations to the Governor's Office for the addition of these new conditions to the list.  

These are just the agencies that are expressly tasked with responsibility under the Illinois medical cannabis pilot program.  There are other agencies who work in the background.

For example, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the property manager of Illinois government, helps the Department of Agriculture inspect cultivation center structures.  Various other local authorities are also involved, from local law enforcement, to county health and building inspectors.  

The coordination required on the state and local level to manage and regulate the Illinois medical cannabis industry is truly staggering.  One challenge facing these agencies is a dramatic lack of funding for these agencies.  Nowhere in the country is this need more pressing than Illinois.  At some point, the personnel staffing these regulatory agencies are going to weary of personally undertaking travel expenses in the hope that they'll be reimbursed from the state coffers; they'll tire of working overtime and on the weekends for no increase in compensation or benefits.  That's when the rubber will meet the road in Illinois. 

Read Jeremy's post on LinkedIn.