State regulators in Illinois announced last week that medical marijuana dispensaries would be permitted to extend their business hours, following complaints that patients are at a disadvantage since legal recreational cannabis sales began this year. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) also issued guidance on prioritizing the needs of medical marijuana patients to dispensaries with licenses to sell cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

When the state’s medical marijuana program was authorized in 2013, cannabis dispensaries were limited by Illinois law to operate between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, under adult-use cannabis laws that went into effect on January 1, recreational marijuana dispensaries are permitted to remain open until 10 p.m. IDFPR Secretary Deborah Hagan said in a release on Friday that the discrepancy was being eliminated in the interest of serving patients’ needs.

“Serving medical cannabis patients continues to be at the heart of our cannabis regulation,” said Hagan. “Our Department will continue working to ensure patients receive the level of service they have come to expect from our medical cannabis program.”

Regulators Issue Guidance to Dispensaries

In a separate notice released on Thursday, IDFPR regulators issued guidance to businesses selling both recreational and medical marijuana on giving priority to patients, noting that “cannabis dispensary locations holding both licenses are required to prioritize Illinois qualifying patients, caregivers, provisional patients, and Opioid Alternative Pilot Program participants.”

Under state regulations, medical marijuana patients are permitted to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks, while recreational sales are limited to purchasing one ounce at a time. But since recreational sales started at the beginning of the year, the state has been plagued by shortages of many cannabis products, leading many retailers to impose tighter purchase limits on both medical and recreational consumers.

Under the guidelines released last week, dispensaries serving both adult-use customers and medical marijuana patients were advised that any purchase limits must be 2.5 times higher for medical patients than those for recreational customers. Dispensaries were also instructed that when patients were present, they should maintain at least one point-of-sale station exclusively for patients for every five stations serving recreational customers.

Although cultivators pay a 7% tax on all wholesale transactions, medical marijuana patients are exempted from additional sales taxes of 10% to 25% levied on recreational pot. Under the new IDFPR guidelines, retailers were notified that medical marijuana patients should be allowed to purchase any of the products in the dispensary’s inventory at the medical tax rate. Designating any products as only for adult-use is not permitted.

As of last month, nearly 100,000 Illinois residents have been approved by the state as qualified medical marijuana patients. Medical cannabis sales in the state totaled more than $27 million in December, the most recent month for which such data is available.

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