Scott Abbott spent 26 years in the Illinois State Police. Part of his job involved busting motorists hauling illegal loads of marijuana on state highways.
But today Abbott serves as the chief of security and compliance for a business in Collinsville that plans to sell medical marijuana to the public.
The irony is not lost on Abbott, 51, a burly retired ISP lieutenant colonel.
“I had my reservations going into it,” Abbott said. “I think I was thinking like most people, that there was a sense of skepticism. But since I’ve been involved in the project and I educated myself, I know there are great benefits to medical marijuana.”
I think I was thinking like most people, that there was a sense of skepticism. But since I’ve been involved in the project and I educated myself, I know there are great benefits to medical marijuana.
Former state cop Scott Abbott, head of security at Collinsville marijuana dispensary
As Abbott spoke, construction workers at the future home of the HCI Alternatives medical cannabis dispensary in Collinsville were swinging hammers, pushing brooms and busily moving around big pieces of heavy-duty duct work on the floor of a former insurance office at 1014 Eastport Plaza, Collinsville.
Abbott, glancing at the building’s front door, envisioned what the dispensary will look like when it welcomes its first customers.
“This is where they’ll come in. There’s a bathroom here and a bathroom there for our guests. This is basically our waiting room area,” Abbott said. “This side is actually the dispensary floor. Then we’ve got our office, and our vault and everything will be in the back area.”
The building’s interior will “be kind of a hybrid of a doctor’s office and a spa, so a very relaxed environment,” Abbott said. “It was basically designed to make it as warm and friendly an environment while maintaining a very rigid security component.”
Everything about the HCI Alternatives dispensary has been planned down to the smallest detail — everything except when the dispensary intends to open its doors for business.
“Our pat answer is, ‘As soon as possible,’” Abbott said. “It’s as soon as we get there.”
After months of waiting and indecision, the metro-east’s medical cannabis industry has entered official lift-off mode. Patients who suffer from a range of qualifying ailments and conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, AIDS, cancer, lupus and Parkinson’s disease, plus 34 other illnesses, will soon be able to buy medical cannabis, provided they qualify for a state-required ID card.
The state’s first medical marijuana crops are set to be harvested soon. The state-licensed cultivation center in Albion, located 120 miles east of Belleville, near the Indiana border, has announced it will be sending its product to dispensary shelves across the state later this month.
And the Illinois Department of Agriculture has given the green light to Progressive Treatment Solutions, of Chicago, to begin growing medical cannabis at the firm’s East St. Louis cultivation center in a former U.S. Cellular data center located off Illinois 3, near the old National City stockyards.
The state has also given the OK for construction to begin on the TGS medical marijuana dispensary set to open Jan. 1 in Sauget, in the Archview Medical Center complex, the office park that contains the stadium where the Gateway Grizzlies minor league baseball team plays.
Tanya Griffin, the Illinois manager for the Colorado firm that owns TGS, said her firm plans to hire between 10 and 20 full- and part-time workers, including a manager and security guards, for the retail store, but won’t begin doing so for another month.
TGS will be authorized to open for business seven days a week, but its hours of operation are yet to be determined, Griffin said.
“It will be contingent on the patients’ needs,” Griffin said.
Late last week, the Illinois Department of Public Health issued its annual progress report on the medical cannabis pilot program.
According to the report, 1,180 of the people approved by the state to use medical marijuana were from Cook County, the home county for Chicago. Statewide, about 2,600 people have received approval letters to use medical marijuana.
Of Illinois’ 102 counties, St. Clair County ranked No. 7 with 89 patients, and Madison County ranked No. 8 with 77 patients, according to the IDPH report.
Elsewhere in the region, there are nine patients approved in Monroe County, nine in Randolph County, six in Washington County, five in Clinton County and five in Bond County.
Altogether, that’s 200 approved patients in the metro-east region.
166People in St. Clair and Madison counties approved so far to use medical marijuana
The leading debilitating condition was severe fibromyalgia, with 437 patients, followed closely by cancer, with 435, the report shows.
Two dispensaries are authorized to open in the five-country Illinois State Police District 11, which includes Madison and St. Clair counties. TGS will operate in Sauget, while HCI Alternatives will operate in Collinsville.
Chris Stone, chief executive of Springfield-based Health Central, which owns HCI Alternatives, predicted his firm’s Collinsville dispensary will open for business before Dec. 31, but he could not be more precise.
The firm’s goal is eventually to hire between 25 and 40 workers in Collinsville, including receptionists, cashiers and security guards. How many people the firm hires at first, though, will be determined once the dispensary opens for business “and we know exactly how many patients we have,” Stone said.
Patient-care technicians, who help patients pick out the strains of medical cannibis they need, and in what form — for example oils, pills or edibles such as cookies and candy bars — will earn between $12 and $15 per hour, while other employees will earn more than $20 per hour, Stone said.
Two years ago, when discussion kicked off about the suitability of medical marijuana dispensaries, some metro-east residents expressed concerns about the desirability of such businesses in their communities.
Rich Sauget Jr., Sauget’s mayor, does not foresee any major problems.
“It is highly regulated,” he said. “It is now legal in the state of Illinois. And we’ll be providing a benefit to those that actually qualify for it. It is my understanding that it will be highly secured, and our police chief has been made aware of some of the things they’ll be doing.”
Alvin Parks, the East St. Louis city manager, called the Progressive Treatment Solutions cultivation center “definitely a plus for East St. Loius. Even if it’s six to 10 jobs, that’s six to 10 jobs that weren’t here before. That’s six to 10 families that are being helped because they are lifting themselves up.”
Even if it’s six to 10 jobs, that’s six to 10 jobs that weren’t here before. That’s six to 10 families that are being helped because they are lifting themselves up.
East St. Louis City Manager Alvin Parks
So far, only about 3,000 Illinois patients have obtained the cards that enable them to buy medical cannabis. That’s far below the 10,000 patients the state and some industry observers had predicted would have obtained the cannabis registry ID cards at this point in the program.
Stone predicted a slow increase in the number of registry cards awarded to patients until an education program takes place, involving both patients and physicians.
“It’s a slow go right now, I think primarily because doctors don’t know how to refer patients to get it,” Stone said. “I think there needs to be an education of doctors and patients, to understand, first of all, how doctors can refer, and, two, how patients can apply properly for it.”
Chris Lindsey, a lobbyist with the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., agreed with Stone that many physicians are not properly educated about the benefits of medical marijuana. But another problem in Illinois centers on the restrictions written into the state law that created the pilot project.
Most Illinois patients approved so far to use medical marijuana have severe fibromyalgia (437 patients) or cancer (435 patients)
One of the biggest of these is the requirement that only physicians with a standing relationship to patients can recommend cannabis registry cards for them, Lindsey said.
In other states that have legalized medical marijuana, if a patient’s physician declines to make the recommendation, then the patient can go down the street to a physician who will do so, he said.
“But in Ilinois there is a law that says you cannot do that. You have to switch doctors. And that creates a real burden on the patients,” Lindsey said.
Out of the 52 dispensaries across the state approved to sell medical cannabis, only four have been given the green light to begin operations. The four are the Harbory, in Marion; the Clinic Mundelein, in Mundelein; Salveo Health & Wellness Dispensary, in Canton; and the Herbal Remedies Dispensary, in Quincy. Only one, Herbal Remedies, has an active license, allowing it to open for business right away.
Like many people in the medical marijuana industry, Griffin said she was disappointed when, on Sept. 10, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 39, which would have expanded the list of conditions and diseases that can be treated with medical marijuana in Illinois.
The governor, through his veto, refused to add osteoarthritis, migraines and eight other health problems. Rauner also shot down a separate bill that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder via a legislative route. Thirty-nine other medical conditions do qualify, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
“It’s a little demoralizing to the program,” Griffin said of Rauner’s veto, “but at the end of the day patients’ needs will get served. We’ll get through it.”
At a glance
As of June 30, about 2,600 Illinoisans had received approval to use medical marijuana
- 60.1 percent of all patients are female
- 69.5 percent are white
- The highest percentage of qualifying patients (32.1 percent) was between the ages of 51 and 60.
- The next highest percentage (19.9 percent) was between the ages of 61 and 70