© 2023 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch the DeKalb County Candidate Forums here!
There are several current and emerging markets in Illinois for cannabis-related products. Medical marijuana is already legal in the state, farmers are gearing up to grow industrial hemp, and lawmakers could consider a measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Whether or not recreational use becomes legal, the business of cannabis is already established in the Land of Lincoln and our reports are intended to bring you information related to these efforts."State of Cannabis" is a collaborative effort among public radio stations across Illinois.Special thanks to participating stations in reporting and editing:Illinois Newsroom, NPR Illinois, Tri-States Public Radio, WBEZ, WCBU, WDCB, WGLT, WILL, WNIJ, WSIU, WVIK-Reporter Roundtable-- Why are we doing this series now? Features WGLT's Ryan Denham, WSIU/Illinois Newsroom's Steph Whiteside, WNIJ's Sarah Jesmer -From Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Rich Egger visited a medical marijuana cultivation facility in west central Illinois to get their perspective.-From NPR Illinois in Springfield, Jaclyn Driscoll has been closely covering the issue. She sat down with Sean Crawford to give us an update on the legislative timeline of recreational marijuana.-When Illinois issued the first licenses for medical marijuana businesses in 2015, almost all the recipients were white. We look at what a more racially diverse marketplace might look like if the state legalizes recreational use. From WBEZ in Chicago, Susie An reports.-Existing rules around the Illinois medical cannabis program could make the rollout for recreational use a less daunting task. But there are plenty of unanswered questions at the federal level which could complicate the process. From WNIJ in DeKalb, Chase Cavanaugh reports.-Northwestern Illinois’ Stephenson County is one area where changes in the status of cannabis are being embraced. The people doing it are not necessarily the ones you’d expect. From WNIJ in DeKalb, Guy Stephens has more.-From WSIU and Illinois Newsroom in Carbondale, Steph Whiteside explains how some patients are considering marijuana as an alternative to opioids.-From WCBU in Peoria, Tanya Koonce brings us the view from Peoria with a doctor who talks about how health providers are navigating conversations with patients who are considering marijuana use.-In today’s legal market, there’s more than just your typical joint if you want to get high. There are cookies, gummies, weed-infused drinks and more... but how might these different products affect you? From NPR Illinois in Springfield, reporter Jaclyn Driscoll has more.-The debate over legalization touches on so many thorny issues -- criminal justice reform, health care, and balancing a state budget coated in red ink. But it's also an economic issue. From WGLT in Bloomington/Normal, Ryan Denham visits a small town in central Illinois where medical marijuana has brought new jobs, new tax revenue, and a hope for more.-Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz says she’s concerned about how legalization could impact the juveniles she works with on a daily basis. She’s also concerned about how the state will address cannabis impaired driving. Illinois Public Media’s Lee Gaines recently interviewed Rietz.-Susan Stephens with WNIJ in DeKalb reports, attitudes are changing about cannabis use.-With conversations about legalizing recreational marijuana, you also may have heard about CBD. This is a very different hemp product and it’s completely legal. Sarah Jesmer with WNIJ in DeKalb reports, those in the CBD market are trying to prepare for possible changes on the horizon. -Illinois Governor J.B.Pritzker wants legalize recreational marijuana to provide an economic boost for the state. At Rock Island’s Augustana College, students have different reasoning behind their perspective. Reporter Natalie Spahn from WVIK in Rock Island found out, many identify themselves in the "pro" category. -Reporter Roundtable #2 There may be more questions than answers as state leaders consider their next step. Features WGLT's Ryan Denham, WSIU/Illinois Newsroom's Steph Whiteside, WNIJ's Sarah JesmerRELATED: Marijuana Investor Gives $9 Million To Harvard And MIT For Cannabis Science (WBUR)

Illinois Cannabis Programs Hampered By Federal Red Tape

Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs

Existing rules around the Illinois medical cannabis program could make the rollout for recreational use a less daunting task. But there are plenty of unanswered questions at the federal level which could complicate the process.

Illinois “went green” in 2013. That’s when lawmakers enacted the medical cannabis pilot program for people with qualifying conditions. Now the General Assembly could legalize recreational marijuana use.  Northern Illinois University Political Science Professor Mitch Pickerill says the strategy has worked in other cannabis-friendly states.

State of Cannabis
This story is part of a weeklong series from Illinois public radio stations focusing on the potential impact of marijuana legalization.

“The move to recreational, because it expands it, has tended to happen where you already have a medical marijuana regime in place, and so that makes it a lot easier for growers and dispensaries to work with the state and comply with licensing because all you’re really doing is expanding the user base,” he said.

Rose Ashby is a field director for the lawmakers who are sponsoring the measure. She says the biggest obstacle to legalization is the federal classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

“Schedule 1 drug tells us it has absolutely no medical value and it is highly addictive,” she said.

In 2013, then-U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a memorandum stating the federal government wouldn’t expend its resources to enforce federal cannabis law in states that legalized it. This is provided the states have “strong and effective” regulation on growers, dispensaries, and users. But DOJ rescinded the Cole Memorandum last year.

Pickerill says the ambiguity creates tension.

“Whether it’s medical or not, the fact that state law makes something legal that federal law makes a crime and that the U.S. Supreme Court says the federal law can preempt the state laws," he said. "There’s a risk for anybody growing or selling cannabis.”


Ashby says this extends to parties that have business relationships with growers and sellers. Banks worry that doing business with the cannabis industry could put their federal charters at risk.

“So cultivators selling to dispensaries, they pay in cash," she said. "Anybody who goes in and buys in a dispensary can’t use their debit card or their credit card, because they have to pay in cash.”

Debit cards are accepted at some U.S. dispensaries. But this can still be a barrier to the unbanked.  Regardless of how dispensaries collect payment, the lack of transparency in cash transactions creates concern.

“That makes them a target for criminal activity, for fraud, or for tax evasion," said Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs. "We would like to prevent that, as the chief banking officers in our state.”

To that end, Frerichs and several counterparts pushed for the SAFE Banking Act to be introduced in the U.S. House. It removes the risk of federal sanctions on banks that interact with legal state cannabis businesses. Frerichs supports similar measures at a state level. 

“We’re offering them a linked deposit program that would provide low-interest loans to the banks in order to bank this industry,” he said.

There’s also been a major overhaul to the state’s medical cannabis system. Then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Alternative to Opioids Act into law last year. The law allows patients with an opioid prescription to substitute that medication with cannabis. It also affects federal participation.

"We used to ask our patients to have FBI background checks," Ashby said. "We no longer do that in our medical program."

But current federal law still leaves open the possibility of prosecution.

“Right now, each of these industries is developing on a state by state basis," she said. "You can’t transport anything over state lines. Everything has to be produced here.”

Legalizing recreational use in Illinois could expand the state’s cannabis regulatory standards beyond medical products. It may also result in Illinois granting additional cultivator and dispensary licenses to account for recreational demand. Pickerill says even with legalization, state government should remain vigilant.

NIU Professor Mitch Pickerill

“I think it’s really important that there be a sustained kind of monitoring and effort to do research so we understand better the effects of cannabis, especially on the medical side, but also the policy impact,” he said.

But the state/federal dichotomy won’t be resolved unless Congress reclassifies cannabis. Treasurer Frerichs says state policies may prompt federal action.

“There are now 33 states that have some form of legal cannabis," he said. "This is putting great pressure on Congress to bring federal laws up to date with our states.”

Until that happens, medical and recreational cannabis cultivators, distributors, and users will continue to operate in a legal grey area as they wade through the red tape.