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Legalizing pot deliveries gains momentum during coronavirus crisis

State Rep. Sonya Harper introduced legislation last month that would allow cannabis dispensaries to deliver weed. Now, she’s calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take immediate action.

Illinois marijuana dispensaries sold over $44 million of recreational cannabis in May.
A push to allow marijuana deliveries is gaining steam as the state responds to the COVID-19 crisis.
File photo

As Illinoisans are ordered to hunker down to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, calls to allow legal marijuana deliveries have increased.

State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) introduced legislation last month that would allow cannabis dispensaries to deliver marijuana to both medical pot patients and recreational customers. Now, she’s calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take immediate action amid the rising public health crisis.

“I would be happy to see if the governor maybe could make a special executive order allowing that, or us being able to get that legislation through maybe quicker than normal this year to provide for that,” said Harper, who co-sponsored the bill that legalized pot statewide at the start of the year.

That landmark piece of legislation didn’t include a provision allowing deliveries, though lawmakers discussed the prospect while it was being drafted.

Curbside pickup allowed

Harper’s push to allow pot deliveries in the wake of the coronavirus crisis comes two weeks after officials allowed retailers to temporarily sell medical marijuana outside stores to protect patients who may be susceptible to COVID-19. The state’s more than 100,000 medical users can also have a registered caretaker pick up pot products for them.

Harper acknowledged that setting up a system for deliveries would be “more difficult” than allowing those curbside sales.

“It would entail basically giving all municipalities and everybody across the state the ability to open up deliveries,” she said. “It would also be creating a new type of license.”

Pritzker’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, but state officials appear to be mulling whether to open up deliveries. A representative of a major Illinois cannabis firm, who asked not to be named, said the company has been included in some recent conversations.

“The state has been open-minded to evaluating and implementing new processes for the convenience of medical patients during this crisis, like curbside pickup, and conversations about how home delivery would work have definitely been part of that dialogue,” the industry insider said.

Margo Vesely, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said her group has recently been lobbying lawmakers to allow deliveries to medical patients.

“I think that we have to really hone in and focus on those that have those compromised immune systems and really look out for them at these times,” said Vesely. “Medical patients, if they have a weakened immune system, can’t be going into the dispensaries. And if they don’t have a caretaker, they’re stuck.

“So it would be really beneficial for them,” she added.

Harper noted that she’s recently seen people waiting to get inside dispensaries and that curbside sales are also attracting lines of cars. As officials institute strict measures to promote social distancing, she said “mobile delivery is probably needed in this time more than ever.”

However, Harper said it’s unclear whether home deliveries could be established without legislative approval, like curbside pickups. Passing her bill quickly through the Legislature also seems unrealistic, as the coronavirus has shut down sessions in Springfield for weeks.

“As it stands right now, the bill hasn’t even been heard in committee yet,” said Harper. “So we really haven’t even had a chance to discuss it, to even see any way that the bill needs to be changed or amended to meet the different needs of the different municipalities.”

“I think if we had the political will we could get together in a room and put that together now, but I do see things like that maybe taking time to figure out the details.”