Medical marijuana entrepreneurs decry fees – Chicago Tribune

Vegetables, flowers and herbs grow in rows of green at Robert Boyce’s greenhouses in Lake Zurich — but what he’d really like to grow is marijuana.

Boyce, a horticulturist and landscape design architect, has run Natural Environments Greenhouses and Nursery and a florist shop for many years. He’s done work for the Chicago Botanic Garden and several Chicago-area public parks.

Yet none of that is enough to qualify for a license to grow pot under the new state law allowing medical marijuana, for which having a green thumb may not be as important as having lot of green to put up.

Under the proposed rules for the new law, Boyce and other would-be pot cultivators need a $2 million surety bond, $250,000 in liquid assets, $25,000 for an application fee, $200,000 for a permit fee and an approved site. The greenhouses he runs wouldn’t qualify because they’re next to a day camp for kids — one of many siting restrictions that also prohibit growing pot near schools and residential areas.

“We have the know-how. We have the manpower, the familiarity with growing herbal and medicinal plants, knowledge of building greenhouses,” Boyce said. “But right now, you’re looking at $3 (million) to $5 million in startup costs.”

State regulators say actual initial costs could vary widely. But they said they want to ensure that those who seek to run marijuana cultivation centers or dispensaries have the sufficient money to operate, especially early on when they have to make significant investments before generating any revenue.

State agencies proposed rules for growing, selling and using medical marijuana in February and received hundreds of public comments in response. Based on the feedback, the state plans to issue revised rules Friday.

Most of the public comments complain that the rules governing medical marijuana are too restrictive, for those who want to grow, sell or consume it alike. The most common criticisms were that the $150 patient registration fee is too high, and that the requirement to fingerprint patients and investors is excessive.

Some industry operators supported the business fees, saying they would separate the real business people from the dreamers who don’t have the money or know-how to start a complicated and expensive business.

The proposed rules — involving four state agencies and covering 226 pages — and the critical responses also underscore the wide range of issues that have to be addressed as the state rolls out medical pot. Though the law legalizing medical marijuana took effect this year, with the potential of more public hearings and changes to the rules, it could be 2015 before any medical pot is available to patients.

The law allows people with any of about three dozen specified medical conditions — including HIV, muscular dystrophy and complex regional pain syndrome — to get certified by a doctor to receive up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Caregivers may also get certified to buy and deliver pot to each patient.

While Colorado, where pot is legal for medical and recreational use, has hundreds of growers and stores, the new Illinois law allows only 22 cultivation centers and 60 retail stores statewide.

That means the Illinois grow houses will be challenged not only to meet strict requirements, such as being monitored round-the-clock by remote video surveillance, but also to crank out a lot of product, while making it consistent and free from pesticides, mold and other contaminants, said Erik Williams, a consultant for Gaia Plant-Based Medicine, based in Colorado.

His company opposed fingerprint requirements for minority investors and patients who need relief.

“To have almost a presumption they’re criminals I don’t think is the right way to go,” he said.

Potential patients and business operators have also asked the state to remove a proposal to limit patients to one dispensary, instead arguing that they should be able to choose whatever dispensary they find offers products that best fit their needs.

The proposed rules generated interest from a wide array of potential entrepreneurs and patients. A downstate farmer, an international exchange student, doctors, pharmacists, consultants and a mortgage banker, among others, all offered input.

The Illinois Hospital Association objected to the requirement that doctors must review 12 months of medical records for each patient before clearing the patient for medical marijuana use. The association recommended that be left up to the discretion of physicians.

Others wanted regulations that would be more restrictive, not less.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association asked that state agencies be required to notify law enforcement of any fraudulent applications or violations of the law.

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