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State gets $5 million in fees from potential pot business owners

Medical marijuana is not yet being grown or sold in Illinois legally, but the state has already earned $5 million dollars from its program.

The influx of cash came from the nonrefundable application fees paid out by more than 350 groups seeking to grow or sell medical marijuana, according to a news release from state officials Wednesday.

There were 158 applications submitted for those seeking to operate cultivation centers, according to the state. Each applicant had to pay a $25,000, nonrefundable application fee, which yielded $3.9 million from potential pot farmers. Only 22 licenses will be granted statewide.

Meanwhile, 211 applied to open dispensaries, according to state. Each applicant had to pay a $5,000 nonrefundable fee. That means the state collected more than $1 million from those seeking to sell the medicinal product. Only 60 licenses will be grated statewide.

Bob Morgan, the state’s medical program marijuana coordinator,  said the large number of applicants means the state can “choose the most qualified applicants.”

Nick Williams, a lawyer for a downstate group seeking to open a dispensary, was “surprised and encouraged” by the large number of entrepreneurs seeking to get into the Illinois pot business.

“I was concerned that the cost to apply for and develop a cultivation center might have been prohibitive to the point there might not gave been enough cannabis supply to supply the dispensaries,” said Williams, of the group Erba, LLC.

“This is indicative to me that serious business people are taking this as a serious business opportunity,” Williams said.

Morgan said the state plans to award the licenses before the end of the year.

The unexpected large amount of cash collected in the two-week application period, which ended Monday, will help keep the program self-funded, which is a requirement of the law, Morgan said.

The money will be used for personnel, procurement, equipment, supplies and the conversion of a Department of Agriculture lab to test a new product — marijuana, Morgan said.

Earlier this month, in the first few days that applications were accepted for patients, more than 2,000 seriously ill people applied to be registered medical marijuana users. An updated number of patient applicants will be released next month.

Morgan said the state aims to have Illinois-grown medical marijuana available to patients in the spring.