Plans for medical marijuana monopoly may be delaying vote - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Plans for medical marijuana monopoly may be delaying vote

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Supporters of medical marijuana are blaming their latest setback in the State Capitol on two North Suburban businessmen. The pair plans to become Illinois' largest suppliers of medical marijuana and some claim their quiet backroom maneuvering has blocked passage of a bill to legalize it.

Rapidly changing laws are moving marijuana out of the shadows, as one of the country's fastest growing industries.

Libertyville businessman Jim Merlo told FOX 32 News that his company, "Medponics," has hired powerful lobbyists in Springfield only because he wants to ensure that when it's legalized here, medical marijuana is grown and delivered safely to those who need it. Others fear Medponics wants to corner the market.

Loop Lawyer Eric Berlin has used marijuana to ease the pain of his Crohn's Disease. It's a story he's told many times in an effort to persuade the General Assembly to legalize the practice in Illinois. After failing again this week, he and others pointed to a new player who's quietly entered the debate.

"I understand they're asking for essentially a monopoly over the grow," says Berlin. "Monopolies lead to higher prices, fewer choices and worse products."

North Suburban businessman James Merlo and a corporate partner recently founded "Medponics." It promises new technology to enable Illinois law enforcers to "track, trace and tax" medical marijuana.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross is a supporter of medical marijuana. He wants to rewrite the current bill after hearing from two top lobbyists about the Medponic system.

"If somebody got stopped by the police, and said, ‘Oh, I'm using -- this is medical marijuana,' you could actually test it and find out whether it was true medical marijuana grown here at one of the facilities, or whether it was not in fact medical marijuana," explains Cross.

The current legislation sponsored by Skokie Democrat Lou Lang would grant licenses to as many as 59 marijuana growers across the state. Supporters claim that having dozens of small growers, instead of one or a handful of very large pot producers, would avoid the clashes with federal agents that have occurred in other states.

"Every time that somebody has tried to do one of these large growing operations, the federal government has come in and has threatened either the landlords and the property owners with not only arrest but also asset forfeiture," says Dann Linn, the Executive Director for Illinois NORML.

The big question now is: what are feds going to do in the face of the growing movement to legalize it in 18 states now?

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