Illinois is considering medical marijuana regulations that could make the program too expensive for thousands of patients and shut the door on all but the wealthiest of providers.

The regulations, proposed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, would require that dispensary owners prove they have at least $400,000 in assets, and pay a $5,000 application and a $30,000 permit fee (plus $25,000 each year for renewal).

marijuana jarCultivation centers would be required to prove they have $250,000 in assets, and pay a $25,000 application fee and a $200,000 fee once the permit is approved (and a $100,000 annual renewal fee).

That adds up to nearly $500,000 in startup costs for dispensaries and more than $200,000 for cultivation centers. Local governments would be able to add their own fees.

Generally only providers with corporate backing could afford to participate at that level. That means the mom and pop shops, long the staple of medical weed, wouldn’t be welcome under Illinois’ notoriously tight MMJ rules.

“Probably 50 percent of the wannabes are now out,” said Joseph Friedman, a pharmacists from the Chicago suburbs who hopes to open a dispensary. “This is going to bring out just the serious players who are well-capitalized and well-credentialed.”

Medical marijuana came to Illinois last August, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law. The state was the 20th in the country to legalize medicinal weed. One other state, New York, has done so, and a 22nd, Florida, is likely to follow suit in November.

Illinois’ program is generally considered the most tightly regulated in the nation. That’s in large part because the state’s powerful police lobby was able to impose rigid rules.

The law took effect in January, and regulators have been working out the details ever since. Now patient advocates worry the high fees could hurt providers and patients.

“This program was designed, proposed and passed to help sick people,” said Dan Linn, executive director of NORML’s Illinois chapter. “But now it seems the state has wrapped itself up in the bureaucracy and this is all going to be on the backs of sick people.”flower-close-up

That, he said, is because businesses will be forced to pass the high cost of red tape onto customers – what he calls the “trickle-down” effect.

“A lot them are sick and on disability and can’t afford the legal medical marijuana,” Linn said. “You’ll see patients who sign up for a card and never use it.”

Another proposed regulation would require patients pay $150 each year for an MMJ ID card, as well as undergo a background check and have their fingerprints taken. The state is accepting public comment on the proposed rules until Feb. 27.

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