In Surprise Move, Illinois Governor Issues Medical Marijuana Licenses


Eighteen months after medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday granted dozens of permits to select businesses to cultivate and sell the drug.

Though medical marijuana patients will still be unable to access the drug for months, the permits come as unexpected good news after a series of frustrating delays getting the state's strict pilot program off the ground.

Outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn (D) failed to issue licenses as expected before leaving office in early January, and just last week, Rauner said he would hold back on issuing licenses until the completion of a legal review process that began under Quinn's watch.

Rauner's administration didn't say how or why the legal review process was resolved so quickly, the Chicago Tribune reports. Part of the task left to Rauner's administration was to evaluate existing business applications to ensure the state wasn't opening itself up to legal liability over unclear procedures, according to Reuters.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports Rauner awarded 18 medical marijuana cultivation licenses and 52 selling licenses on Monday.

In all, the state received 214 applications for up to 60 dispensary licenses and 159 applications for 21 cultivation centers, the Better Government Association reported in September. For the businesses who weren't approved, Monday's announcement added insult to injury: Each hopeful dispensary and cultivation center had to pay a nonrefundable application fee of $5,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Ali Nagib, the assistant director for the Illinois arm of the nonprofit advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Huffington Post last month that most advocates and lawmakers are anticipating medical marijuana patients will have access to the drug "sometime between late spring and early fall of this year."

Before You Go

In Israel, there is technically no legislation regulating marijuana for medical purposes but its Ministry of Health issues special licences allowing patients to use cannabis for certain medical reasons.

The country has been at the forefront of medical marijuana research since the 1960s, when Prof. Raphael Mechoulam isolated and studied THC, the psychoactive property in cannabis that leaves users feeling “stoned” but also helps relieve symptoms like food aversion and nausea.

Another Israeli professor, Ruth Gallily of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the other main medicinal ingredient CBD, the property that can act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety medicine.

Canadian licensed producer MedReLeaf has partnered with Tikun Olam, Israel’s primary supplier of medical cannabis, and a company on the cutting edge of marijuana advancement. It counts Mechoulam, “the grandfather of THC,” among its advisers.

“It’s the only country that I know that has been researching it for so long, and consistently,” said Maayan Weisberg, Director of Marketing and Business Development during an interview at MedReLeaf’s Markham, Ont., facility.

MedReLeaf has licensed some of Tikun Olam’s patented strains of marijuana that the company developed based on research collected from about 7,000 patients over the past seven years. Now, the company is involved in clinical research in major hospitals in Israel.

“We are the only company in the world that has this accumulated data about patients,” Weisberg said.

Tikun Olam, whose name means “healing the world” in Hebrew, has used patient feedback to create hybrid strains and play with genetic material. The company has experimented with different concentrations and ratios of cannabinoids to customize treatment for different types of patients.

“If it’s an elderly patient, you don’t instruct them the same way you do a child, you don’t instruct a Parkinson's patient the same as you do a cancer patient.”

Israeli researchers have studied the role of cannabis in treating a variety of ailments including anti-tumour properties for cancer patients, reducing weight loss among HIV patients, treating neuropsychological disorders and preventing tremors and shaking in multiple sclerosis sufferers.

The researchers last year found evidence that marijuana helps fight Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease.
The Netherlands
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Though the Netherlands legalized medical marijuana two years after Canada, its main provider has enjoyed more freedom to experiment than Canada’s former sole provider CanniMed, which was limited to one strain under the government’s old program.

Unlike in Canada, medical marijuana has been available through pharmacies since 2003 through a government agency that also works with universities and research institutes.

There is one major supplier in Holland — Bedrocan, which has used feedback from patients, epidemiological studies and genetics to develop three strains of marijuana to cater to specific needs. Bedrocan also ships to other European countries that allow medical marijuana. It is working to develop clinical trials in Holland.

Bedrocan’s three strains are all covered by Holland’s largest health insurer, and a majority of physicians support its use.

Now, Bedrocan Canada, a sister company that is importing product from Holland, is one of 12 licensed producers under Canada’s new medical marijuana free market.

Though the Canadian ruling came first, the country is still far behind in developing medical marijuana in part due to how the drug was introduced. In Canada, a Supreme Court ruling forced the government’s hand and made it possible to access cannabis for medical reasons, whereas in the Netherlands, medical usage became available because of a sympathetic government .

“The program in Canada has been forced upon Health Canada by the Supreme Court whereas in the Netherlands it was developed out of a compassionate use for patients so they have a lot more liberal attitude towards cannabis and how it can benefit,” said Marc Wayne, head of Bedrocan Canada.

He blames a change in government funding policy that was ushered in by the Harper government eight years ago for cutting off experimentation with therapeutic uses of ganja.

“On the scientific level we’ve been kind of stunted in Canada.”

Under a program that started April 1, which allows commercial-sized grow operations, research funding will be left up to the private sector. In the Netherlands, Wayne explained, Bedrocan is funding much of the research.

“It definitely influences what strains are brought to market,” Wayne said, adding that patient research is behind the six strains Bedrocan now has available.
United States
Licensed Canadian producers are turning south of the border for marijuana growing know-how.

Tweed Inc. of Smiths Falls, Ont., did research in Colorado and turned to Maine to find master grower Ryan Douglas, who worked for a state-level medical marijuana facility. There, he oversaw 20 strains of grass. Similar advancements are taking place at the state level across the U.S.

Yes, even Canada’s War on Drugs-focused neighbour is making strides in the development of new marijuana strains. Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, more than 20 states now allow medical marijuana usage and two states allow recreational use. An additional 12 states now have legalizing recreational marijuana use on the agenda.

There is research being done in universities and institutes, and even the American Medical Association has endorsed the reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I “most dangerous” drug to allow for further study.

Though officially opposed to its use as a medicine, the U.S. actually holds patents for cannabinoids.

Most recently, a proposal to study the effectiveness of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder got the green light from two U.S. federal agencies. Researchers are waiting on the Drug Enforcement Agency for the go-ahead for a clinical study at the federal level. The FDA has also approved clinical trials for the use of marijuana in treating epilepsy.

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