For months, Illinois’ fledgling medical cannabis industry had been limping along – dogged by uncertainties over its future and hurt by disappointingly low numbers of patients whose medical conditions qualified them for state certification cards.
But in the past few days, the clouds of gloom have lifted thanks to a compromise bill now awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature. The measure would extend the state medical cannabis pilot program by 2.5 years, to July 1, 2020. It would also expand the list of qualifying conditions, to include post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal illnesses, potentially adding hundreds of thousands of new patients to the state registry.
Medical cannabis users, dispensary owners and physicians who were interviewed agree that the measure, which Rauner has promised to sign, could be a lifeline for the state’s industry, providing it with the critical base of patients and healthcare personnel necessary for its long-term future.
Dr. Greg Randle, a physician who runs a pain clinic in Maryville, said the inclusion of PTSD will be a boon for military veterans in the area.
“I see a lot of vets with PTSD, and they don’t qualify for the cannabis program because they don’t have a severe enough chronic condition to warrant it,” Randle said. “But PTSD can be easily treated with cannabis. I can get them off some of those anti-anxiety drugs they’re on right now. It’s a good thing.”
Only a few days before Gov. Rauner late last month agreed to the compromise deal that added PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions, the U.S. Senate and House both approved bills that include amendments requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to lift restrictions barring VA doctors from talking about medical marijuana or recommending it to their patients.
As of early May, Illinois had 6,200 qualifying patients, including 45 people under the age of 18, and 8,100 who submitted a complete application.
Meanwhile, Illinois dispensaries sold nearly $2.3 million worth of cannabis to more than 5,100 patients during the month of May, according to program director Joseph Wright.
That figure represents a slight tick upward from April, which totaled $2.2 million in medical cannabis sales. May’s sales figures bring Illinois’ total marijuana sales to $10.8 million since medical sales began Nov. 9, 2015.
The state has 37 registered dispensaries. Illinois patients are able to use cannabis for 39 serious and debilitating health conditions.