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Illinois’s Medical Marijuana Program Is Severely Stunted

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Just over two years ago Illinois’ first legal medical marijuana dispensary opened under the state’s pilot program. But the state has such constraints on the program that it’s not thriving. The stunted growth is causing difficulties for industry businesses.

Revolution Enterprises has two large cultivation facilities but they are only operating at about 28-percent capacity, according to the Chicago Tribune. In December, it’s reported that sales topped out at just $9.3-million. Those numbers don’t make financial sense for an expansion to take place at Revolution Enterprises, according to its CEO Mark de Souza.

de Souza said, “Current market conditions just dictate that we have to operate as lean as possible, assuming extremely slow growth in the overall market. We can’t plan any other way, and that’s what makes being a businessperson in this industry a little more challenging.”

The state has enough qualified patients for the industry to thrive. The state’s framework doesn’t allow for much growth in the program though. Supporters are hoping that changes come in 2018. A bill has been introduced to the Illinois General Assembly to allow access to medical marijuana for those qualifying for prescription opioids – a measure that could significantly increase patient enrollment.

Statewide, there are about 29,900 registered medical marijuana patients. Since dispensaries opened in 2015, combined they’ve sold about $123.6-million in medical marijuana and medical marijuana products. More than half of those sales took place in 2017.

Illinois allows access for 41 medical conditions. Doctors must certify that a patient has one of those conditions. Fingerprint background checks are conducted within 30 days of a potential patient’s application being received. Patients can be denied if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

The one thing that is holding back patient enrollment is the fact that Illinois does not allow access for those with chronic pain. Access could help reduce/stop opioid addiction. Opioid addiction happens to be the state’s most urgent public health issue.

The pilot program for medical marijuana ends in July 2020.

Ross Morreale of Ataraxia said, “You can’t flip a switch and make it happen overnight, but if this legislation were to pass, all of us would definitely expand.”

Morreale says that Illinois should look to Arizona’s program as an example of how much the addition of chronic pain can grow the state’s medical marijuana program. Arizona has about 151,000 medical marijuana patients with an estimated 128,500 of them having chronic pain as at least one of their qualifying conditions.

Morreale also said, “The current cultivators have plenty of capacity to have a market with at least 10 times as many patients, without question. That’s what we all expected.”

The new bill, if passed, would require applications to be approved or denied within 14 days of receiving them. The state says it processes about 400 medical marijuana card applications weekly. They’re also working through about 250 medical marijuana card extensions a week. Terminally ill patient applications are expedited but all others are subject to the 30-day approval/denial period. Staff increases are taking place to be able to handle more applications and process them faster.

Conversations regarding medical and recreational marijuana are becoming more frequent in Illinois.