Medical Marijuana Facts and Forecasts in Illinois

Illinois

Medical cannabis has been made available to patients in Illinois over the course of the past two months and has already made a significant impact on the quality of life for many of those who qualify for treatment.

Joseph Wright, the director of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, announced last week that legal dispensary sales of medical marijuana in the state totaled nearly $1.7 million for the months of November and December, according to the Associated Press. Legal wholesale marijuana sales, from cultivator to dispensary, totaled over $1.5 million. With marijuana wholesalers responsible for a seven percent sales tax paid to the state, Illinois collected an additional $107,000 during this same two-month period.

The collection of sales figures began on Nov. 9, 2015, when Illinois launched regulated sales of medical marijuana with the opening of the first licensed dispensaries in the state. This marked the functional launch of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, with eight dispensaries ready at launch time. Now, there are 16 dispensaries in operation and the number of patients is steadily growing, but some in the industry believe more patients should have safe access to medical marijuana.

“The scrutiny we are under [in Illinois] is unprecedented. It is good that the program is very well-regulated in Illinois. We’ve done a great job of living up to those standards. what we’ve not done is given access to enough patients and we really need it,” said Tim McGraw, CEO of Revolution Enterprises, a cannabis producer in Illinois, in an interview with MJINews.

McGraw is right—industry leaders in Illinois have avoided some of the snags of programs in other states. In Colorado, for instance, two marijuana users have sued one of the largest growers for allegedly using unhealthy pesticides. Illinois remains an industry leader in this respect, due to the state’s strict controls for cultivation.

All of this means that there is a lot of potential for a flourishing program in Illinois. Although the revenue collected during the first few months of the program is not much to write home about, many feel that growth is just around the corner.

McGraw believes, “[State revenue] should go up dramatically, especially if these conditions are added. It has already grown by more than 10 percent last month and we expect those trends to increase as more dispensaries come online. The patient population will continue to slowly build, but we’re not making it available to enough people. If we do, the program will explode. We expect those numbers to grow significantly. This is just the beginning.”

Illinois began accepting patient applications on Sept. 2, 2014. As of as of Aug. 5, 2015, months before dispensaries opened, the state reported that nearly 24,000 residents had started the application process, with 3,500 completing the application and 2,800 receiving approval letters. The discrepancy between the number of completed applications and those expressing interest in the program might have to do with the complexity of the application process. Illinois is the only state that requires fingerprinting for medical marijuana patients, something the patients are expected to pay for on their own.

Zach Zises is the co-owner of Dispensary 33, currently the only dispensary within Chicago’s city limits; accordingly, it is at the forefront of legal cannabis in Chicago. Zises is among those hopeful for inevitable changes to the Prairie State’s program.

When asked about his predictions for 2016, Zises said,

the way in which the law is written, there is an advisory board set up to recommend increasing the approved condition list and then it is under the purview of the IDPH to either approve or deny those recommendations. Unfortunately, what we saw in the first round of recommendations was the governor stepping in front of the IDPH and turning what should be a medical question into a political one. All we need now is for the governor to allow this program to work the way the law was written.

When Zises and McGraw speak of “conditions,” they are referring to the especially limited scope of the ability for medical marijuana to treat patients in need. There are currently 39 conditions covered. On Oct. 7, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted to recommend adding eight more qualifying conditions to the state’s list, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to Tom Angell, a marijuana policy reform activist, “The state Department of Public Health is expected to make a decision by the end of this month.” As a means of promoting progress, the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois is circulating a petition to encourage state officials to approve the eight new conditions.

Outside of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board’s recommendations, residents and industry members who want the state to adopt additional qualifying conditions have until Jan. 31, 2016, to submit their suggestions directly to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

If the state approves additional conditions, Illinois would have an opportunity to provide a greater number of patients with safe access to medical marijuana, while also increasing revenue for the state.

As Zises explained, “The amount of revenue that has been collected to date is a drop in the bucket for the state of Illinois. It is not a significant amount. This is nothing like what is happening in Colorado where the whole state’s financial structure has been improved by taxes deriving from cannabis sales.”

Tori is an artist, activist, curator, and writer from Miami living in Portland.

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