Storm Clouds Ahead for Illinois Medical Cannabis Businesses After Program Expansion Shot Down

By John Schroyer

Medical cannabis startups in Illinois have been worried about the state’s low MMJ patient count for months now, but they’ve held out hope that officials might expand the list of qualifying conditions and help boost the market before sales begin.

Those hopes went up in flames last week when the state’s health commissioner shot down recommendations by a committee to expand the list by 11 ailments. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner – who’s not exactly a fan of MMJ – also vetoed a separate legislative bill that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition that qualifies for medical cannabis cards.

With less than 3,000 patients signed up for MMJ cards as of late August, the dozens of businesses prepping for launch in Illinois might find themselves with lots of product on hand and few patients to sell it to.

Some believe the very future of the state’s four-year pilot medical cannabis program is now in jeopardy.

“I’ve already learned today that one cultivation center has basically fired all of the employees that they had hired,” said Joseph Friedman, chief operating officer of PDI Medical, which is planning on opening a dispensary in October or November. “Things have really slowed to a crawl with Gov. Rauner’s decision. Everyone’s sort of questioning the future of the industry in Illinois at this point, because Rauner might have an agenda to shut it down when the pilot program ends.”

Friedman said he’d seen one estimate that the 11 ailments the advisory board suggested could have opened up the MMJ program to an additional several million patients, though others said that number is too large to be realistic. The proposed conditions again included PTSD as well as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, post-operative pain, and seven other less common ailments.

Chicago-based cannabis consultant Michael Mayes said though several million might be an optimistic estimate, it may be possible, especially with post-operative pain included.

“A lot of regulators think it’s a scapegoat to get a card, but (pain is) also one of the most therapeutic uses of cannabis,” Mayes said.

Now, instead of potential growth, businesses are looking at scaling back, and some will likely reconsider their plans.

“Any business that’s looking to serve patients with a smaller market size, it really caps the ability for them to be able to operate effectively,” Mayes said. “Many times there’s expansion plans, with phase one, phase two, and a lot of phase twos are probably going to be pushed off.”

Julie Stone, a co-founder of the Cannabis Association of Illinois, said the future of Illinois’ MMJ program is in question, simply because many of those involved don’t know what to make of Rauner’s administration and his decisions regarding cannabis.

“No one really knows,” Stone said. “Rauner’s not saying anything. But what he did really shows that he’s not supporting the program.”

Rauner did say in a veto message to the legislature that he thinks it would be premature to expand the scope of the program already because dispensaries haven’t yet opened, so there’s no way to evaluate the efficacy of MMJ, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Because the program is scheduled to sunset in 2018, that gives the matter even further urgency. If patient counts don’t hit the level needed to keep businesses producing and dispensing, it could give Rauner’s administration reason to write medical cannabis off as a failure.

Rauner also shot down an attempt to extend the pilot program in April, saying there’s plenty of time between now and 2018 to see if it works or not. The Tribune also reported that MMJ advocates are negotiating with Rauner to try to get him to support extending the program’s timeline.

“We have our own Chris Christie here in Illinois,” quipped Friedman, alluding to the New Jersey Republican governor’s well-known anti-cannabis stance. He added that last week’s news “really casts a big doubt on the future of the program.”

Still, many remain optimistic, said both Friedman and Stone. Both expect patients to re-petition the Department of Public Health to expand the qualifying list, and they’ll have an opportunity to do so starting on Oct. 7.

“The advisory panel isn’t going to stop. All these conditions are going to be re-petitioned… The people behind this industry in Illinois aren’t giving up,” Friedman said.

And a number of cultivators are close to their first harvest. Stone said those cultivators are hoping that once dispensaries begin serving customers, that will jumpstart the patient registry and more will enroll in the program.

“I hope that’s the case, because patients are what will change Rauner’s position,” Stone said.

Ultimately, Illinois will license 60 dispensaries and 21 cultivators. The licensing process is ongoing, but nine cultivation centers have thus far gotten the go-ahead to begin growing.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

8 comments on “Storm Clouds Ahead for Illinois Medical Cannabis Businesses After Program Expansion Shot Down
  1. gloria on

    This sounds as if the governor is actually just ignorant! Suggestion: drop all the mmj bs,, legalize adult recreational use, tax it,, & just watch what the heck happens! Nuff said? What a bunch of idiotic nonsense!

    Reply
    • Robert Oertle on

      Absolutely! Governor said there is enough time between now and 2018 to see if it works or not??? We already know that mmj works and just look at the states that allow it and the ones that allow recreational. Its an exploding industry. The reason why so many people are not joining the program is because the program itself is terrible. Tax and regulate like alcohol and tobacco!!

      Reply
    • bongstar420 on

      So your saying its better to force people to go through the doctor to get the “medicine” they “need.”

      Whats more important; patient access or avoiding taxation?

      Reply
  2. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Thank you, Marijuana Business Daily, for this report. In 2010, my father lost his battle with cancer in southern Illinois. One of the hardest things for him toward the end was having no appetite. I know for sure cannabis would have enabled him to eat. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is a bit player in the monolithic Anti Marihuana Tyranny, whose agents in many states are hellbent on denying medical cannabis (as they did to my dad) and suppressing the cannabis economy for as long as possible. I would recommend to all patients and cannabis career-seekers in Illinois, and their supporters, to start taking direct action, week after week, month after month until real change happens. Do not let your ‘leaders’ drag their feet any longer. The quality of sick people’s lives cannot wait one more day. Organize loud protests at Gov. Rauner’s offices and public events, or demand hearings with his staffers to tell your stories. Get in the faces of all lawmakers and public officials involved and do the same. That’s how it was done to the east here in New York, during the first 6 months of 2014, when dozens of very determined ladies led the charge inside the NYS Capitol building in Albany, NY and refused to take “no” for an answer.

    Reply
  3. GloMan on

    I’ve seen enough in Ill. to know the MMJ program is in real trouble.
    Why would I put my name out there if all its going to do is lead the jack booted bas#@rds to my door. There isn’t any law that’s going to stop my use of MMJ. If I don’t use it, I don’t walk. My diabetic neuropothy is so bad, MMJ is the ONLY thing that helps.
    This is just insane. Give the PPL. what they need & quit blowing smoke while you stick all those UNDER THE TABLE dollars in your pockets! We’ve been LIED to long enough!

    Reply
  4. Lazarus Cain on

    Governor Rauner is imitating his buddies Scott Walker and Chris Christie who, like most Republicans, are hell bent on dismantling affordable health care, opposing legal marijuana, and protecting the exorbitant prices demanded by the pharmaceuticals.
    I fail to understand how Rauner was elected in the first place.
    Of course, his intent is to see that mmj in Illinois will be a failure, as well as will be his attempt to solve the budget problems of Illinois. The same can be said with respect to Congressional Republicans.
    Republicans will not by nature ever approve of any compassionate medical program if there is not enough money in it for them. Bear in mind that any user can short circuit high taxation on marijuana by cultivating a single seed.
    This leaves room to still allow for petty law enforcement practices against black persons in the cities of Illinois to be applied with impunity. After all, Rauner is all for strong law enforcement and tougher policies against marijuana. He appeals to voters who feel that way and has no respect for those who use marijuana and does not want nor seek their vote.

    Reply

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