Will retailers be able to open a package of marijuana to give customers a whiff? Will a master grower be able to work for multiple cultivation centers? Is medicinal marijuana chocolate considered candy?
Those were among the questions at a standing-room-only town hall meeting about the application process for Illinois' new medical marijuana program. Attended by more than 500 people, the meeting Wednesday at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago gave patients, caregivers and aspiring business owners a chance to learn how the application process will work.
Entrepreneurs -- called "ganjapreneurs" in the dialect of the emerging industry -- are bracing for competition as they prepare paperwork for a two-week application window that opens Sept. 8. The meeting allowed them to get into the heads of the people who created the point system for determining who will win the limited number of valuable permits.
It was the last of three town hall meetings held recently by state officials. Like at the prior meetings in Collinsville and Peoria, most questions centered on the requirements for marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries.
But in a departure from the business concerns, William Scott identified himself as a veteran teacher concerned about young people in Chicago "dying in the streets" because of the illegal drug trade. He called the meeting "very sedate and sophisticated" and noted the "entrepreneurs ... hovering about waiting to land and profit from this."
Scott asked whether there would be educational opportunities for youth in the program. He learned the applicants will be given bonus points for having a community benefits plan or a substance abuse prevention plan.
"A lot of people do like to see what they're buying," said Brett Roeper, an attendee who asked whether dispensaries will be able to open marijuana packaging to let customers see and smell the product. Illinois requires medical cannabis to be kept in child-resistant, light-resistant packaging.
Roeper didn't get a direct answer, but was told the Illinois rules require that marijuana from an opened package must be disposed of within a week in a way that makes it unusable. Presumably, retailers could open samples for customers to see and smell, then destroy the samples each week.
The rules forbid edible marijuana products from resembling commercially available candy. "We're not prohibiting chocolate products," said Ray Watson of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, responding to another question. "Just don't make it look like a Baby Ruth."
A master grower can work for multiple centers, with a caveat: The rules bar a single entity from winning permits for more than three cultivation centers and five dispensaries. If one master grower is named as a principal officer by numerous applicants, that could jeopardize the chances for any one of the applicants, Watson said.
"We're trying to avoid concentration of permits in too few hands," Watson said. "If someone is participating in 15 different applications, they may be affecting the ability of those who are applying."
James Watts, of Firm Systems Fingerprinting, asked whether fingerprint-based background checks would reveal out-of-state convictions. He was told the current system does not, but that applicants will be required to disclose such convictions.
Program coordinator Bob Morgan said it has been "a long road" and that public comments have helped shape the regulations and the application process. He said the program's goal is helping patients improve the quality of their lives.