Marijuana testing lab left high and dry

By Jack Adams

In 2015, David So received the license he needed to open ICR Labs to test medical cannabis to comply with FDA guidelines.

ICR Labs was the first marijuana-testing lab to be authorized for a license in Illinois. Before he opened for business and began testing recently legalized medical marijuana, So realized that there just wasn’t enough product to test to make the business viable.

“I pretty much had everything ready,” So said. “At the push of a button I would have been up and running, but I’m very glad that I didn’t.”

As of January, there were a little over 4,000 patients signed up under the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, making marijuana use legal for patients with one of 39 approved conditions.

So said that even if he had kept his license, there just isn’t enough marijuana grown in Illinois to make his lab a viable business. If chronic pain were added to the list, So said the number of patients who would become eligible for a medical license would be sufficient to support his lab.

The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, part of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), recommended that eight conditions be added to list of approved conditions, including chronic pain. The IDPH Director, Nirav Shah, rejected all of them.

“I think they’re taking an overly cautious role in expanding the pilot program,” said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The IDPH provided no reasons for rejecting the recommended conditions. Linn said he thinks its possible that officials will change their minds. So isn’t as hopeful.

“You can’t just sit hoping that laws are going to change,” So said. “We’re far from it here in Illinois.”

Judy Kreamer, a member of the Naperville group Educating Voices, said she thinks medical marijuana should not be legal. She said instead of legalizing medical marijuana for all people with the approved medical conditions, the state should focus on finding other remedies for people with these chronic illnesses.

“On one side you have the people who say marijuana works for them; on the other hand, you have literally hundreds of thousands of people who’s lives are in jeopardy if you tell them that (Marijuana) is a medicine,” Kreamer said.

State Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin) was one of several sponsors of the medical marijuana bill. He said he would like to see small amounts of marijuana completely decriminalized. Illinois did remove criminal penalties for possession of under 2.5 ounces over a 14-day period, but civil penalties still apply, with fines up to $2,500.

“We don’t want people to have to go to the black market to purchase something that has true medicinal value,” said Noland.

The Medical Marijuana Pilot Program will expire in 2018.

Photo at top: Illinois legalized medical marijuana in 2014 (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Correction 2/17/2016. Originally this story incorrectly stated that David So’s license was revoked by the Department of Agriculture. David So still has his license. He didn’t open ICR labs because he didn’t think he would have enough business. Medill Reports regrets the error.