Rauner opposes extending medical pot program

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A proposal to extend the temporary medical marijuana program doesn’t have Gov. Bruce Rauner’s support.

“The governor believes there is a lot of time left to evaluate a pilot program, and we should not extend the program until it has been fully evaluated,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in an email.

Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who championed the medical marijuana law and is now working to keep the temporary and delayed program in place for more time, said he was asked by officials in Rauner’s administration to hold off on filing a bill seeking more time for the program.

But the bill was filed and it’s making progress, clearing committee and now scheduled to be heard by the House. All of the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill last month, with one not voting.

“I’m not here to do the bidding of the governor’s office,” Lang said.

“If [Rauner] is opposed to this bill, he’s opposed to this bill to the detriment of very sick Illinoisans.”

The pilot program has been in effect for nearly a year and a half, but no marijuana has been sold to patients. Permits to grow marijuana were handed out last month.

Lang’s bill seeks to extend the program four years from when the first dispensary begins officially operating. It’s now set to expire at the end of 2017.

It would give the program a chance to begin functioning and allow patients who suffer from conditions such as cancer and multiple sclerosis to have access to the sought-after drug, Lang said.

The extension will also prevent legal marijuana prices from “skyrocketing,” Lang said.

Marijuana entrepreneurs have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to win permits to grow and sell medical marijuana and now some are spending millions to build their facilities.

“Opposition to this is a serious blow to patients, sick people, caregivers,” Lang said. “The purpose of this program was to help very sick people improve their quality of life.”

The bill also seeks to extend the use of patient cards issued before dispensaries are operating.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, has asked what the cost of the extension would be.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said it’s “impossible to estimate the total value of potential lost revenue” because dispensaries are not yet operating and it’s not yet known when they will be. But if dispensaries began operating next month with the approximately 2,000 patients that are currently approved to use medical marijuana, the department estimates it would cost about $200,000. But the state will lose more money the longer the delay and the more patients that sign up, the department said in the fiscal note accompanying the legislation.

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