Metro-East News

2,500 Illinoisans apply for medical-marijuana cards

A marijuana plant.
A marijuana plant.

The number of Illinois residents applying for and receiving medical marijuana cards continues to climb, even as legal challenges cloud the future of cultivation centers across the state under its four-year pilot program.

About 2,500 people have applied for the cards, with 1,600 receiving approval letters, according to Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The department’s record-keeping system does not provide a breakdown of where the applicants and letter recipients reside, Arnold said.

Some patients entitled to apply for medical cannabis cards, however, are holding back out of concern over the future of the state’s medical marijuana program. Kim Locke, of Mattoon, said she has deliberately held off on applying for a card for her 7-year-old daughter Alyssa, who suffers from severe epileptic seizures that could one day kill her.

A type of non-psychoactive cannabis marketed under the name “Charlotte’s Web” has shown promise in treating the type of epilepsy that afflicts Alyssa, but it can’t be imported from other states to Illinois under the pilot program, Locke said.

“Unfortunately, the way the laws are written right now, we have to buy from Illinois dispensaries,” Locke said. No one can say, though, if the seeds needed to grow the first Illinois cannabis crop can be imported from other states, Locke added

“And if they don’t import the plants, it’s going to take a couple years of cross-breeding to the get the right ratios” for Charlotte’s Web — time that Alyssa doesn’t have, Locke said.

“If we had the funds to move we would already be gone, and she would be fine,” Locke said. “We’re patients waiting on a medicine.”

Meanwhile, plans to open the metro-east’s first medical cannabis dispensary in Sauget, in an office park near GCS Stadium, remain on track, according to Tanya Griffin, vice president for Illinois operations for The Green Solution, the corporate owner of the Sauget shop, as well as chain of other dispensaries in Colorado.

Despite legal challenges that have stalled progress on cultivation centers planned for East St. Louis and suburban Chicago, Griffin is confident that a cannabis crop will come to market. Under the provisions of the state law that established the pilot program, the 60 dispensaries authorized statewide may only sell cannabis grown in Illinois at licensed cultivation centers.

“Unless the whole state goes down, I would anticipate we should be open and ready to go for the first round of product that comes out” by September at the earliest, Griffin said.

A series of lawsuits filed in the past month has thrown the future of cannabis production into major parts of the state into doubt.

A Madison County judge on March 13 issued a temporary restraining order preventing Progressive Treatment Solutions LLC of West Chicago from starting work on a grow facility in East St. Louis.

Progressive Treatment had been awarded the state’s sole license to grow medical marijuana in a five-county area that includes Madison and St. Clair counties.

The restraining order was sought by a competitor. The competitor argued the state agriculture department violated rules in issuing the license because Progressive did not have zoning approval in time.

Cresco Labs LLC, which had been awarded three licenses to grow medical marijuana, is fighting two legal challenges, brought by unsuccessful license competitors, that have halted progress on cultivation centers planned for Joliet and Kankakee.

The battle over medical marijuana in Illinois is being closely watched by government and business interests nationwide. Many entrepreneurs are flocking to the industry because of what are viewed as largely untapped financial opportunities.

At least 23 states have passed laws legalizing cannabis in some form, in addition to the District of Columbia, fueling a trend that some analysts have called “The Green Rush” that has proven a magnet for an influx of adventurous, if often inexperienced, investors, who are being nicknamed “potrepreneurs.”

The many business opportunities being generated by legal marijuana in so many states — ranging in everything from cannabis tourism and pot delivery services to smokeless vaporizers, gels and cannabis-laced edibles, in addition to a multitude of related paraphernalia and services — recently led Forbes magazine to launch a blog specializing in the marijuana industry.

The patchwork of laws vary by spate, proving a boon to small businesses, which don’t have to worry about large competitors that could dominate operations in multiple states. “Federal laws that prevent large companies like Philip Morris from getting into the industry are providing a place for small businesses to flourish,” the Forbes blog reported.