It’s no secret that the Illinois Medical Cannabis Program has had more than its fair share of struggles to get up and running. Becoming the 20th state to legalize medical cannabis, the Illinois General Assembly approved The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act in 2013, and the law technically went into effect January 1, 2014.
The struggle didn’t end there. Patients had to wait nearly two years before they were given safe, reliable access to medicine through retail locations in November 2015. Even then, dispensaries were not open everywhere throughout the state until much later. Patients on the South Side of Chicago, for example, didn’t have a neighborhood dispensary until April 2016.
The March numbers for the Program are very encouraging–we’re constantly working to increase access for patients in Illinois and help with the administration and expedite the approval of applications. These numbers show that engagement, awareness and education can work.
excitedly stated by Cresco Labs CEO, Charles Bachtell.
Since then, the program has seen slow and steady growth. Indicating that some of the larger hurdles may be in the past, March was a record breaking month for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Program, which has been extended through 2020. Some noteworthy statistics are as follows:
- New completed program applications increased by 1,485 or 7% to 21,300
- Approved patients increased by 1,299 or 8% to 18,289
- Patients served increased to 12,224, up 1,510 patients from last month (67% of total patients)
- Retail sales increased by $1.4M or 28% to $6.4M
- Wholesale transfer to dispensaries increased by $745k or 25% to $3.8M
- The average retail cost per gram of flower increased to $12.18
- The average grams purchased per patient per day increased to 1.03 grams
Some may credit the qualifying conditions list expansion last July as a possible catalyst for program growth. After a lengthy battle with Gov. Bruce Rauner, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition suffered by more than five million people in the United States, was added to the list of conditions which qualify a patient to apply to the program.
Illinois medical cannabis patient and Co-Founder of the largest online community for patients in Illinois, Joel Erickson was cautiously optimistic of the news stating, “As granular as you’d like to break these statistics down, there are still significant price barriers for patients at the register.”
Now that the program has been extended through 2020, steady growth is expected to continue. This is also good news for cultivation and retail businesses which will have the opportunity to grow with the program.
A powerful demonstration, executed by Medical Cannabis Outreach, was held on the steps on the Illinois State Capital on Wednesday January 27, 2015.
Twenty-two body bags representing the number of American veterans who commit suicide every day and several large, transparent bags filled with empty pill bottles symbolizing the prescription drug epidemic in the United States were displayed at the Lincoln Statue of the State Capital while the group hand-delivered a petition to Governor Bruce Rauner’s office.
Caprice Sweatt speaking during the demonstration. (photo credit: Salveo Health & Wellness)
The petition, addressed to Gov. Rauner and Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, is calling for the expansion and extension of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.
“The goal in going to the State House is to demonstrate on behalf of patients, potential patients, and Veterans who are frustrated with the Rauner Administration’s decision not to add any of the 8 new debilitating medical conditions that were recommended by the medical advisory board,”
Caprice Sweatt, Medical Cannabis Outreach CEO, explained to Whaxy.
“We hope by staging this demonstration that the residents of Illinois and the Rauner Administration will understand that it is imperative that these 8 conditions be approved.”
Hundreds of supporters of all ages reportedly joined Medical Cannabis Outreach for the demonstration in Springfield.
Ladies holding signs which read “Grandmas Say ‘Approve the 8!'”
In May of 2015, a panel of health care experts called the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended that eleven conditions be added to the list of those which qualify a patient to register with the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. Gov. Rauner denied the expansion, citing that moving to include new conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and osteoarthritis would “prematurely expand” the program before its success has been evaluated by the state.
The board voted again in October 2015 to add eight conditions, including chronic pain, PTSD, autism and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), to those which qualify for medical cannabis in Illinois. Neither Gov. Rauner nor Dr. Shah have moved to include any of the board’s recommendations.
“I think we have to put our politics and social agendas aside and boil it down to what matters most, which is easing human suffering,”
stated Board chair Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple.
“We bring a high level of education to this table. We ask that our recommendations be taken seriously as the pilot [program] moves very soon into its implementation phase.”
More photos from the “Approve the 8” demonstration calling for eight conditions to be added to those which qualify for medical cannabis in Illinois:
The state of Illinois is in the process of implementing a highly regulated medical cannabis program for its sick and ailing citizens. The law, similar to those found in other states, allows participants to possess and consume up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every 14 days. It covers 33 conditions, ranging from Alzheimer’s and ALS to Crohn’s disease, Lupus, and Parkinson’s. It even covers Tourette’s syndrome.
While Illinois’ list of included conditions is longer than that of many other states, patients with serious conditions that they believe are aided by consuming cannabis, but that are not included on the list, have become vocal in the state. In May, the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended the inclusion of 11 additional conditions to the Illinois medical program:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Chronic post-operative pain,
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neuro-Behcet’s autoimmune disease
- Neuropathy (peripheral and diabetic),
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Superior canal dehiscence syndrome
The fate of this list of conditions lies in the hands of governor Bruce Rauner, who must decide by the end of August if he desires to expand the state’s new medical cannabis program.
Maureen Bake, a nurse in Chicago, recently asked,
“What’s it going to take? We don’t want to wait any more. This is not fair. We should have this choice available to us!”
Bake suffers from both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. The former is a recognized medical condition in the state that entitles her to medical cannabis, while the latter is not yet approved.
Illinois resident Tom Surman suffers from three life-altering conditions, all of which are on the pending list: Diabetic neuropathy, PTSD, and migraine headaches.
“I don’t want to be a lawbreaker,” said Surman. “I certainly don’t want to be a lawbreaker…and get caught!”
Dr. Marc Sloan, a pain management physician in Illinois, believes that the additional conditions should be added so that the state’s program can better serve patients throughout the state. Dr. Sloan reported,
“I believe that we should make the drug available to patients that can benefit from it.”
Sloan advocates medical cannabis because he believes it is safer than most conventional pharmaceutical drugs. His primary objection to traditional therapies? “Side effects,” he said. “We have 2013 statistics that report no deaths related to marijuana and we have 18,000 deaths related to prescription opiates.”
Jessica Harshbarger, a medical cannabis advocate in the state, found relief in cannabis after years of suffering with extreme migraine headaches caused by a blood disorder. During a visit to Colorado to visit family, Harshbarger discovered the efficacy of cannabis. Her headaches simply stopped. Regarding her time in Colorado, Harshbarger revealed,
“I didn’t have a single headache the whole trip. I felt fantastic.”
Harshbarger and thousands of others are hopeful that Governor Rauner will approve the list, allowing her to legally consume cannabis to treat her debilitating migraines and maintain an active life with her children. She said she hopes the governor approves the conditions so she’ll “not have to uproot my kids out of school and move away to Colorado or somewhere else. I don’t want to have to be a marijuana refugee.”
Will patients and advocates celebrate a victory because the state decides to include sufferers of the 11 new conditions in its program? Only time will tell. Officially, the conditions are still “under review.”
The switch from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, to his successor Bruce Rauner, has caused the licensing of the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries to get lost in the shuffle.
While in office, Quinn made lists of the dispensaries that would receive medical marijuana licenses. The problem is Quinn’s administration inexplicably delayed the actual issuing of these licenses. He promised to issue the licenses by the end of 2014, but let his constituents down when he left office with the issue unresolved.
What makes this such a big issue is Quinn publicly stated the reason he didn’t issue the licenses was because the evaluation agencies didn’t finish the application process. Leaked emails showed there was more to the story.
Emails between people within the administration show the agencies were ready to go with a list of recipients for 18 cultivation licenses and 56 retail licenses. What’s odd is that Quinn’s administration cut the list down from 18 to 12 potential recipients, in one of the leaked emails.
One disturbing piece of information in these emails is the fact that political favoritism seems to have played a part in the final decision process. One example cited by the Associate Press, shows that a former staff member of Quinn’s administration was hired by an applicant as a lobbyist, and this applicant was mysteriously disqualified, without explanation, even though they met all of the score requirements.
This has caused an uproar on the other side of the coin. Medical marijuana advocates are outraged by the delay. They blame selfish image management as one of the main reasons Quinn didn’t follow through with his promises. It makes sense, as being a governor that enacts medical marijuana policy is a bold political move. This is a big issue for patients to be worried about. Every politician is image-conscious, so what is going to make the Republican Bruce Rauner want to risk alienating himself from a segment of his party by enacting his predecessor’s policy. With that being said, it is a selfish move which has severe consequences on patients.
Most of these advocates are potential patients or know potential patients, so they speak from first hand experience on how this delay is affecting the citizens of Illinois. Patients with serious illnesses like cancer and AIDS are being denied supplemental treatment which is, in most cases, the only thing that makes their symptoms and pharmaceutical-caused side effects manageable. These patients are forced to continue seeking medical marijuana on the black market, putting themselves at risk for the sake of a politician’s image.
Rauner’s administration has said Quinn’s policy would need a comprehensive review until any of the selected applicants are issued licenses. This vague answer has potential patients realizing the sobering reality that dispensaries still may be months away. The beginning of Rauner’s term is staged to be quite interesting, with the medical marijuana issue serving as a defining moment for potential re-election.