The number of Illinois residents applying for and receiving medical marijuana cards continues to climb sharply, while the state’s legal cannabis cultivation centers continue to race the clock to have medicine to sell by the fall deadline mandated under the law that created the state medical cannabis pilot program.
About 3,500 people have applied for the cards, a 40-percent increase over the number four months ago, according to recently posted numbers by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
What’s more, the department has issued 2,800 approval letters, a 75-percent increase over numbers reported as of March. Ten applications have been approved for patients under 18 years of age, according to the department.
The department’s record-keeping system does not provide a breakdown of where the applicants and letter recipients reside, according to Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
As soon as the first medical cannabis dispensaries open, a new wave of patients will likely apply for cards, predicted Tanya Griffin, whose firm, TGS Illinois, plans to open a dispensary in Sauget.
“These people when they see (dispensaries open) are going to be a lot quicker to go through the trouble” of applying, said Griffin, who added that Illinois, with its $100 application fee and finger-printing requirement for card applicants, has the most stringent qualification process in the nation.
“The hurdles are just huge,” Griffin said. “But people are persistent. They’re getting rejected, but they’re going back again.”
Bresha Brewer, executive director of the newly created Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, a trade association representing cultivation centers and dispensary firms, attributed the sharp growth in card applications to increased public awareness about the benefits of medical cannabis.
“The patient numbers have increased, because the industry is moving forward,” said Brewer, the agriculture department’s former legislative liaison. “I think patients are doing their research and seeing it as a viable application” to treat a long list of illnesses and conditions, from the side effects of cancer treatment to epilepsy to rheumatoid arthritis to multiple sclerosis.
Nearly 24,000 Illinois residents have started the state medical cannabis pilot program patient registry application process since IDPH began accepting applications Sept. 2.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has awarded permits to 18 cultivation centers in Illinois. Inspections have begun on all permitted cultivation centers, including the one awarded to a partnership group in East St. Louis.
So far, six centers are authorized to cultivate, according to agriculture department figures, which refuses to identify the facilities that have started growing medical cannabis.
All 18 cultivation centers must begin growing their first crops of medical marijuana within six months of receiving their licenses. The first crop will likely arrive at Illinois dispensaries sometime in October.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.