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updated: 1/26/2014 12:06 AM

Illinois pot stores might have to deal in cash-only

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- People who buy medical marijuana in Illinois might find out it's cash-only.

Even though lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn approved last summer the use of cannabis for certain medical conditions, selling and buying it remains a federal offense.

So dispensaries set up to distribute it may not be able to open bank accounts or get a line of credit, according to the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers in a report Saturday.

"What it means for a lot of businesses is that they're forced to operate entirely in cash," said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association in Washington. "That's not just the sales side. It also affects the business side."

That means higher risk for dispensary staff members and public safety, according to West. Marijuana stores will have to have a bundle of cash to pay bills, meet payroll and dole out tax payments.

That's why state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, opposed the legislation.

"It's as if the majority who supported this bill shrugged off the fact that this is prohibited by federal law," he said. " ... We would appear to be enacting an entire bureaucracy in our state for one drug and in doing so, we're ignoring all of the implications that this would have on a federal level."

The Illinois law authorizes a pilot program to legalize medical marijuana. Access rules have been called some of the nation's toughest, but regulations are still being written.

Preliminary rules for the program were released last week. They call for patients to provide fingerprints, submit to background checks, pay $150 annually for special photo IDs and surrender firearms cards.

West said businesses in other states that have legalized marijuana have faced problems with finances. Banks could run into trouble with federal officials for violating drug-trafficking and money-laundering laws by doing business with vendors.

The sponsor of the initiative isn't concerned. He says Illinois should be more concerned with helping people with debilitating illnesses for whom marijuana, smoked or eaten, often gives relief from pain or other problems.

"I would say that's a feeble excuse for not improving the lives of thousands of sick people," said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat. "It didn't bother 20 other states, and there's no reason Illinois can't take care of its sick people."

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