‘Embarrassingly Low’ Patient Count in Illinois a Big Concern for MMJ Businesses

, ‘Embarrassingly Low’ Patient Count in Illinois a Big Concern for MMJ Businesses

By John Schroyer

Scores of dispensaries are hoping to open in Illinois later this year, but they might face an immense challenge right out of the gate: a lack of customers.

Illinois has approved just 2,500 patients for MMJ cards since opening the registry nearly nine months ago, which one attorney with ties to the medical marijuana industry called “embarrassingly low.” That’s a far cry from the state’s initial estimate of 75,000 potential patients and much less than many entrepreneurs had expected at this point.

To be sure, Illinois likely will see a surge in patient numbers as dispensaries launch, as has happened in other states. And officials appear close to approving new qualifying medical conditions, which will certainly boost the patient base.

But the numbers to date are so low that several insiders are worried about the future of the state’s entire MMJ industry.

“It’s a huge, huge problem,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Chicago-based MMJ consultancy Quantum 9. “With the lack of patients into the registry, businesses will suffer greatly… and may even go out of business due to the lack of a market. If all the cultivation centers have all this product, the supply goes way up, and if demand is so low, there’ll be pricing wars.”

Under Illinois law, the medical cannabis program will ultimately license 60 dispensaries and 21 cultivators, so the patient count will have to be in the tens of thousands in order to support all those businesses.

Furthermore, Mayes said he’s “incredibly worried” that the low patient count could actually jeopardize the future of the entire industry because Illinois’ MMJ system is set up as a pilot program that will expire at the end of 2017. If the state doesn’t get enough in tax revenue, or if the program isn’t as widespread and successful as many originally expected it to be, then longstanding opposition to the program (from Gov. Bruce Rauner, for instance) could torpedo an extension.

The low patient count has already led at least one company to turn a cultivation license it won back over to the state, and if the customer base doesn’t expand, other licensees could follow suit.

Factors at Play

There are several issues in Illinois that are likely combining to drive down the current patient count. For one thing, since no dispensaries are yet open and no MMJ available to patients, many potential recipients probably haven’t bothered to undertake the mountain of paperwork necessary to qualify for the state registry.

“The patient needs to complete an application, they need to pay a fee, they have to get fingerprinted, and they need to get a doctor to certify them,” said Brad Zerman, owner of Seven Point, a dispensary that’s slated to open in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park sometime this fall. “It’s quite a process.”

Also, similar to what’s happening in Minnesota, a reluctance on the part of many physicians to recommend cannabis for their patients may also be playing a role in the low turnout, said Julie Stone, co-founder of the Cannabis Association of Illinois.

“It’s all so new that the physicians don’t feel there’s enough concrete information,” Stone said. “Physicians aren’t on board, and without them, it makes it even more challenging for a patient to feel comfortable talking about it… It’s all kind of a big Catch-22.”

Mayes said another big obstacle is a lack of accessibility for a lot of patients with ailments that don’t qualify them for MMJ.

He noted that the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board last month recommended adding 11 more medical conditions to the state’s list for those who can receive MMJ, but that recommendation hasn’t been approved by the director of the department of health yet. A spokeswoman for the agency said she expects the list will get the green light by the end of July.

“The program will fail if a lot of these conditions aren’t added, and if the patient registry requirements aren’t loosened up a little bit,” Mayes said.

What Can be Done

Zerman, Stone and others are concentrating on public outreach and educational campaigns for both patients and physicians as to the medical benefits of cannabis, and are hoping that will help bolster patient numbers as the months wear on.

“We’re doing a lot of outreach in the area where our dispensary is going to be. We’re contacting doctors to educate them as to how cannabis can be used effectively as part of a treatment program,” said Zerman. “We’re also providing seminars for patients and prospective patients to learn more about the same subject.”

For example, Zerman said, his team is coordinating a free monthly informational seminar on MMJ in the Oak Park Library, which is open to all. One was held Wednesday evening this week, he said.

Stone said more dispensaries probably need to take similar steps to what Zerman’s working on.

“I know that some dispensaries are working on facilitating patients signing up, and what I hope is that they all will start putting energy into that,” Stone said. “It’s ultimately going to be their clients, so it’s in their benefit. They may have more time than cultivators right now.”

Possibly even a larger problem, however, is that the required fingerprinting and federal background check for the patient registry is a major disincentive for potential MMJ recipients.

“The fingerprinting and felony background checks are just killing the program,” Mayes said. That will have to be fixed by the state Legislature, Mayes said, and it’s unclear if any such attempt will be undertaken next year.

Stone, Zerman and Mayes also all agreed that once dispensaries begin to actually open their doors and start serving the public, more patients will flock to the program.

“Nobody really believes it until the first dispensary opens. At that point, patients will come. The patients are here, it’s a matter of getting them registered,” Stone said.

When that may be, however, is still very much up in the air. The general consensus is that dispensaries will likely start opening either in the fall or early winter this year.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

29 comments on “‘Embarrassingly Low’ Patient Count in Illinois a Big Concern for MMJ Businesses
  1. paul on

    The industry could help us and themselves by working to create a service (within the law) that could help patients find doctors that are willing to write recommendations for MMJ. It is very difficult for a patient to find a willing doctor with no help from anyone.

  2. Caprice Sweatt on

    My company Medical Cannabis Outreach has been contracted by several dispensaries around the State of Illinois to help drive this program thru education and outreach. Our comapny is signing up qualified patients everyday but the State has made the process so difficult for the patient we see people who could never do it on thier own! This program is only going to survive if the Doctors get on board and more dispensaries hire my company or others to get out there to drop fears, stigmas and hold the patients hand thru the entire process. We are working day and nite for this program 🙂

    • Charmya Chicago on

      I didn’t find it hard at all, just go online to the Public Health Department and print out the forms and do as directed on them, get fingerprint,pay Dept. of health cannabis fees $100, and get your doctor to fill out his part of the paperwork and send it in to the address on the form. Wait 30 days for your answer and check email because I never received letter but I was approved. I just had to email them and then they called me back. There are clinics helping people with the paperwork if needed. It is a shame the politicians are holding this up from the patients that really need this. I think they are chopping the crap out of the time in the Pilot Program and if you have never been sick or know what it is like but you can tell a person that what has been already proven to help and which can help the states budgets. It is ridiculous that it did not pass with Gov. Quinn. Trump is right about favors and getting this or that for their own agendas and beliefs. HOW ABOUT Asking a pain patient, cancer patient or child fighting epilepsy how they feel about it. What if it is one of the politicians child that needed this treatment??!!Would they rush it through then? Also the people that are approved for MMJ are patients NOT criminals! I have been stopped twice this past week and asked after finding out I supposedly have a card! It hasn’t been mailed yet! It has gotten off the ground yet! I asked the officer exactly how are they going to handle that with patients needing to get to the doctors and he said DUI’s! ok so you might as well not drive and medicate, it should be as until you see how you react to the medicine like any other medicine, my husband was also stopped, so now I feel harassed and like a criminal and not only that why should the police department have privileged of my medical information. Yes I will be treated with it but when does that place a huge red X on my back or an officer having such information? What happened to HIPPA???!!!! i CAN’T MEDICATE AND DRIVE SO i GUESS i WILL HAVE TO RELY ON OTHERS! What little dependence I have will be gone completely and you have to choose MMJ or pain medications>there shouldn’t be a question of choice but what the patient needs. Both or not! MY POLITICIANS ARE NOT MY DOCTORS!

  3. Chris Lindsey on

    Another unique factor in Illinois is the fact that the law requires that only a physician treating the underlying condition can make a recommendation for his or her patient. It isn’t clear whether and to what extent medical marijuana doctor’s clinics can exist in any way that is similar to what we see in most mmj states. The state has not yet defined what the standard of care actually is, so it is possible there will be a more workable system that can evolve from what we have now. FYI, there is a bill that would extend the program by one year because of the delays. We think it will likely pass, but it is not yet clear.

    • kennystulz on

      that is simply not true although I have not seen my medical marijuana card yet although they cash the check Illinois did I am lived in Iowa has a brain injury in Iowa and after move back to Illinois never had an Illinois doctor I prove to them that I had a brain injury University of Iowa so supposedly I’m getting my card hope I see it until then its black market amen

  4. Gentle Jim on

    My Family doctor retired and my new family doctor informed me that ProMedica told her that she was not allowed to even discuss MMJ with her patients. I have to use a pain doctor that monitors my status (a legal requirement in Mich.) from a town 40 miles away. What a corrupt system that we have now that “best government money can buy” was decreed by the supremely purchased court.

  5. Clifton Middleton on

    The doctors are with big pharma and the legislators are with big alcohal and a big Police State, both are willfully ignorant and doing what they can to sabatoge the use of cannabis. It should be a crime to oppose the use of marijuana.

  6. gloman on

    I agree Paul. I’m in the mid-state area, and I haven’t found one Dr. to write recomendations. I’m currently registered in Az., but even that won’t help here.
    The major medical groups have been using the “my lic. is federal & it is still illegal with the feds”.

  7. Amish Parikh on

    Interestingly enough our library meetings in Illinois started way before this article. My Compassion’s Illnois State branch has been actively running for a year with a 2nd Cannabis Conference happening at Navy Pier on July 23 – 25. The problem is not where are the patients its when will the medicine become available for the patients to feel comfortable to go through the costs and the mountain of paperwork. My Compassion is here to stay and its nice to see that our library community meetings are being copied….hopefully it will get the work done faster. I would also like to note that this article is quite interesting since MJBiz Daily just held a very profitable conference in Chicago about a month ago so its a little odd that a Industry News organization provide such a poor spin on the complexities of a new industry in Illinois. Maybe if the Dispensaries and Cultivation Centers were really focused on their constituents and not on how much money they are going to be making things would be a lot more different. I have lost count on how many meetings we have been in with Cultivation Center and Dispensary organizations who just don’t understand the real problem…Stop looking at the money and start looking at the patients and their doctors. Medical Cannabis Outreach….thank you for copying our library community meetings…It’s been noted hopefully the patients that attend can see past the greed and start actually getting their health and lives back! My Compassion will be hosting a FREE NONPROFIT Patient Based Community Meeting at the Evanston Library on July 1st. My Compassion is run by Patients who understand all of the intricacies that patients deal with on a daily basis.

  8. Heidi Parikh on

    But not ENTIRELY embarrassing enough for MJ Business Daily to hold their business conference there last month where there was absolutely NO focus on the Patients or Doctors just the $$$. Maybe MJ Business Daily should take some of that money they made in Illinois promoting business opportunities(which now your backtracking on) and put it into patient education so the Industry is sustainable and businesses thrive!

  9. David G Ostrow, MD, PhD on

    As I have been saying over and over for the past four years, a tightly controlled and centralized program will not create a compassionate and welcoming environment for patient’s seeking ANY FORM of complementary or holistic care. Add to that the many layers of bureaucracy built into the IL system and the enormous investments of time, money and back door cigar smoking necessary to get approved for a cultivation site or dispensary and you have a perfect storm for failure when patients find that growing their own or becoming part of a cooperative is not so bad after all. Finally, while even 3 years ago I would have been skeptical that recreational marijuana would become legal anytime soon, the movement to just skip over medical marijuana and all the costs and data it would require and go directly to general legalization instead has seemed to gain the momentum needed for it to happen. This would short-circuit the important research needed urgently to develop science-based treatment guidelines for specific symptoms or diseases, but perhaps that boat has already sailed and it is time to think about gaining such data from the many “experiments” that are being initiated in States more willing to accept cannabis as medicine than Illinois.

  10. Seth Tyrssen on

    What’s happening is obvious: Illinois is shooting itself in the foot with an overdose of impossible paperwork. That’s amazingly stupid. Remember, all you politicians, just how much Colorado alone made in tax money. The process should be SIMPLIFIED, not made more difficult. Get real.

  11. Greg Rx on

    Start working on a full legalization ballot proposal and include some major improvements to the medical law. Start today.

  12. ERic on

    Look it is real simple, you do the same as was done in colorado in the early days. You find a doctor, even if out of state, fly him in for two days a week and advertise on craigslist for a turn key solution for patients where you handle all the paperwork, in this case sans the fingerprinting and for that you get a local company that does fingerprinting and shovel all the business to them. Everyone wins. I did this personally so it is not just some ‘suggestion’ that has not been tested. That is the way we processed 60 people per week for one dispensary and gave the overflow to other dispensaries for a fee.

    • Caprice on

      The Colorado early days were so easy compared to this progam We are working the same model you speak of here in Illinois and we are getting people approved. Also Pied Phiefer and Good Intentions have been doing this longer than anyone in the State with great results. One big issue I run into here is the fear of the police Illinoian’s have been scared for sooo long they are having a hard time coming out. My company gives patients a voice and I stand up and speak for them and it inspires them to drop the fear and be honest about what works for them ive been a legal Colorado patient for 12 years and i find this puts potential patients here in Illinois at ease it also inspires them. I pray this program survives!

      • Charmya Chicago on

        I wouldn’t drop it to far if you plan on driving. It is now MMJ for your medicine or driving and getting to your doctors. There is too many catch 22’s. I’ve been approved and the cops know that there is nothing available yet but have pulled me over for supposed texting which I wasn’t and yet he began to ask me if he could search my vehicle and if I had smoked or was transporting, of course it was no, but wait why are you asking those questions I asked and he said oh, I see you been approved. What happened to HIPPA? And it is going to be a DUI he said. REALLY even with charlottes web? It is getting ridiculous! My husband was pulled over tonight and I heard the dispatcher say it again, MMJ and medications. Where the hell is privacy? Do they say oh John Smith has cancer too!!?? I don’t want the darn thing anymore if I’m just going to get harassed! I’ll move and take myself elsewhere!

  13. Karen on

    It’s important to recognize that the people of Illinois do have a voice. If they believe the legislators will make or adjust laws to their benefit, without reaching out weekly to the lawmakers voicing their needs, they’re part of the problem. Too many ask for change but don’t make their voice heard. There is NO incentive for a politician to support a cause unless it will affect their job. We pay their salary and we put them in office! Get vocal and advocate for change…it takes years.

  14. Seth Tyrssen on

    Many good comments here, but I think Caprice summed it up: “the state has made the process so difficult for the patient, that we see people who could never do it on their own!” (Thanks for being there, Caprice!) You may have elected ’em, but it need not “take years” to change this … grab ’em by the scruff of the neck and say “knock off the bullshit!” By all means put it on the basis of cash, that’s the language politicians understand. Everyone here has also missed one other vital point: Freedom of Religion. Some (not all) of us recognize cannabis as a Sacred Herb, to be treated respectfully as a sacrament for all the benefits it gives. The Church of Cannabis is a good group, but the Temple of Ankh’n’Abis/Church of the Sacred Herb (see us on Facebook) has a more radical, militant attitude … which is what’s needed, here. Stop being so damn polite and threaten to throw the bums out of office if the process isn’t simplified down to a single page, and a doctor’s prescription … and not just for a few illnesses, but across-the-board at the doctor’s discretion.

  15. Dev O on

    What WE are waiting for is this program to finally launch!!! Why go spend a $100 to $150 for a card (that’s only good for 1 yr) when there’s no legal cannabis to have access to???? Get it together folks and get this MMJ program running before the end 2017!!! hopefully

  16. Bobbi Goodman on

    There are plenty of customers – with absolutely no access to doctors and a so called program that may never begin…

  17. V/N vet. on

    The dispensaries in illinois won’t be open this year. The cost of opening a dispensary is not profitable with no patients. Since there is such a shortfall of patients, I think that illinois should consider letting patients grow their own medicine. I don’t see how that can hurt. Many patients will also go to the dispensaries anyway, if they ever open.
    Sick people do not want to supplement their income by incuring the wrath of the gov., they simply want access to what most people living north of the border have.
    Isn’t it time Illinois got the picture? Get busy, it will all work out in the end.

  18. Stephen Dunn on

    The entire process has been one big cluster – well you get the point. My wife and I set up and paid for a consult with my neurologist specifically to discuss MM, and he stated he would definitely support my app. He then backed out due to insurance restrictions and federal threats. In the meantime I had started an online app only to have it crash and erase all info – twice! I paid close to $100 for fingerprints only to have them expire after 30 days when I couldn’t find ANY doctor willing to help, plus needing to establish a 90 “relationship.” We finally found a compassionate care clinic which has so far cost well over $200 and counting. I just paid another $110 for me and my caregiver to get another set of fingerprints, plus a passport photo. Next up is another $75 for the state. I could have purchased an OUNCE on the street for this much money and at a fraction of the trouble. The compassionate care clinic is an hour and a half from my home – each way! I am in a wheelchair and live with severe pain, but do the legislators care? Hell no, all they want to hear is the cash register. And now who knows if and when the dispensaries will open, and if they do,for how long. I keep saying that pot will be legal before the damn MM program rolls out. Sorry about the long harangue. If I sound frustrated, I’m sure I’m not alone.

  19. The Whites on

    Husband and I have both gotten fingerprinted and took care of all paper work as patient and caregiver. It wasn’t that difficult. But for someone older it might be. Our concern is we paid all the fees too and nothing is available. It is supposed to last a year. Then we have to do it all over again. Why are we paying this and not getting anything for it? Will it be refunded if nothing moves forward on this? We wouldn’t care if we had to drive a couple hours to get it every couple months if we had to. Come on people get your act together and get this off and running for the people that truly need relief and deserve to live a better life.

  20. AnonOkin on

    The problem is that there is only 1 doctor in the whole state, who’s willing to OK prescriptions for patients. As far as I’ve heard, no other doctors are willing to get involved. So of course this slows things WAY down. If more doctors were willing to help their patients with this, I’m sure the numbers would go up.
    And, I’ve been hearing that 2,500 number for a few months now, so I doubt it’s accurate anymore, by this point. There are lots of patients who are still currently in the process of applying, and probably many more who don’t know how, or are waiting to see how things develop.

  21. Cary on

    I just got rejected. They say because I had a prior charge in 1989 that I cannot get a card.
    I am very upset.
    Now in order to change their decision it says I have to go to court in front of a judge…. But does not say what judge and where. If a person has to go to Springfield then I am done.
    Considering a move to Michigan.

    I do not think having a previous possession charge, especially 26 years ago, should affect my getting a medication that I greatly benefit from. Heck if some evil person shoots a bunch of people and is injured… They get medical attention no matter what… Why is this different??

  22. The Missus on

    It’s disenheartening to see all the trouble patients are having. I was fortunate. I made it through the application process with few hiccups. The only issues I had were the website timing out because my scanner was being pokey, and my photo (that I took myself, needed to be retaken. I was approved in just a few days.

    Regarding physicians, I asked a specialist that I have been seeing for over a decade. He has a very busy rheumatology practice in the Chicago suburbs, and he told me I was the first patient to ask him about it. Then he warned me of the dangers (as perceived by him), and signed the forms.

  23. Harry Platypus on

    Beware of so-called “compassionate care” clinics. I was told my medical condition qualified to keep me coming back. After paying $400 over six months, the MD refused to sign my paperwork saying my condition didn’t qualify. The Illinois program is not about helping patients – it’s about extracting money from patients and investors, and then delaying until the program collapses for lack of customers.

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