The Viability of Illinois’ Medical Marijuana Program: Q&A With Bob Morgan

By John Schroyer

If anyone knows the Illinois medical marijuana scene, it’s Bob Morgan.

Morgan was appointed by former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn while he was still in office to oversee the implementation of the state’s MMJ program, which Quinn signed into law in 2013.

Morgan stepped down from the post in May 2015 and moved into private practice with a Chicago law firm.

In his new role, he still works closely with the cannabis industry, but not just in Illinois – he also does consulting work with companies in up-and-coming markets, such as Maryland and Hawaii.

Marijuana Business Daily spoke to Morgan recently about the challenges facing MMJ companies in Illinois and whether the program will prove viable in the long run.

What do you make of the back and forth between the state panel that has recommended twice now expanding the qualifying condition list and the reticence from the health commissioner to do so?

On one hand, the advisory board is functioning as intended. There’s reasoned medical judgment, there’s review of research studies and there’s consideration of individual patient testimony. Yet there’s a lot of disappointment in the outright rejection of additions that were proposed to the health department.

The state has suggested that we need more time to evaluate the success of the program, but I’m skeptical that we’ll see a different result in the second round of this consideration. I think expansion of the program is more likely to come from legislative action – as opposed to the way it’s working now, from the advisory board.

I think that we have time, and there’s a possibility before the program expires at the end of 2017 to expand the medical conditions. The real question is what mechanism we use to do that.

I would like to see the program expand. We’ve seen so much change in the industry, even just from the day the law went into effect almost two years ago, in terms of research, public support an specific examples of hundreds of people in the country and in Illinois that are benefiting from the program.

One of the ongoing questions in Illinois – and Minnesota as well – is the relatively small number of patients who have registered so far. Is the Illinois program viable at this point with so few patients?

That’s a really big question for the industry right now. When you look at other medical marijuana programs around the country, the vast majority of their patient populations – when they’ve had successful medical cannabis programs – generally speaking come from the category of chronic pain, which is missing from Illinois’ law.

That’s a big bulk of the population that could be benefiting from medical cannabis.

There’s also the lack of (post-traumatic stress disorder), which is another category that states have or are adding, and it’s another that Illinois doesn’t have in their law. So our patient population is low, and I’d love to see that continue to increase and make sure that those that are eligible actually get to participate.

But even right now, with the conditions as they are, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois that suffer from those conditions. So my bigger issue is making sure that those that could benefit from cannabis have access to it.

In a worst-case scenario, if conditions such as chronic pain or PTSD aren’t added to the list by the time the program sunsets, what’s going to happen to companies that have invested a lot to get into the Illinois market? Are they going to be able to survive over the next year?

I think the medical cannabis program is here to stay in Illinois. There are a lot of lives already being helped by medical cannabis, even in the last month. Hundreds of jobs are being created, and there’s more and more public support for the program.

To me, there’s no question that the program is going to survive, and businesses certainly were aware that it would be a few years before they recovered the big bulk of money they spent on developing their facilities.

And my sense is that businesses, while concerned about it, certainly know that it’ll be a long haul and a long play as opposed to a short-term gain.

So I think the industry is going to survive. It’s going to expand and change over time, but the manner in which it expands and changes, that’s one of the big questions that’s going to be answered.

What makes you so optimistic that the program will be renewed?

For one thing, there’s really no precedent nationally of a state going in the opposite direction (and folding it entire medical marijuana program).

Politically and legislatively, I think the support is already there for continuing the program. Getting a law passed to do that is a different story. The question for the state is, ‘What does the first six months, 12 months look like? What are the things we can change to make it better?’

And then continue to evaluate that as the sunset approaches at the end of 2017.

Everything that’s happened so far suggests that this is a program Illinois can manage, and manage safely, and manage in a way that can help people that are suffering. And those are really strong indicators of where the state is going to go.

Any words of advice for businesses in the state that may be struggling?

Illinois issued licenses to these growers and dispensaries based on some of the best applications and the best models in the country for a cannabis business. The financial situation will improve, the number of patients will grow, and if they continue to do what they’re doing right now, which is enriching patients’ lives, I think the rest is going to take care of itself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

9 comments on “The Viability of Illinois’ Medical Marijuana Program: Q&A With Bob Morgan
  1. Steve W on

    The only way “the rest” is going to take care of itself is the same way the “medical ” marijuana programs works in the rest of the country and that is by opening up the definitions to ambiguous ailments like “chronic pain” so that the large majority of “patients” can get high!

    I’m sure some people are helped with “medical” marijuana but the reality is that the vast majority of these, supposed, “patients” just want to get high. Unless the rules are written in a way that allows these people to register without a real, medically defined ailment then the numbers of patients will remain small and the industry with it.
    Take a look at ANY state with a “medical” marijuana program and you will find just what Washington has found. There is almost ZERO market for CBD strains. THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) is what everyone buys. There is virtually no market for high CBD strains.
    While there are some therapeutic aspects Cannabis is almost exclusively a recreational plant. States need to recognize this and quit standing in the way of their citizens who just want to get high!

    Reply
    • Greg on

      Please explain why getting high is a bad thing. People get drunk off toxic alcohol all over our state every day and that’s okay, but if people feel a sense of euphoria from a non-toxic plant like cannabis, then folks like you get angry. It makes ZERO sense.

      Reply
  2. AgentOrange on

    Insightful and cautiously optimistic (correctly so). Extension of the program is entirely a creature of the ongoing budget standoff in Illinois, and expansion of the conditions is also partly tied-up in that squabble, too. Good thoughts from one of the handful of folks with intimate knowledge of the Illinois program.

    Reply
  3. achnad achnad on

    Thanks NY DOH to handing out licenses to IL’s PharmaCann and MN’s Vireo Health. When they fail in their home states you can be sure they will screw things up in New York as well. Governor Cuomo and the clowns at New York State DOH screwed New York based businesses and farmers!

    Reply
  4. David Harkness on

    When has delegating *medical* decisions to *politicians* ever worked out for patients? Why is my *doctor* not in charge of my medications and treatment?

    Reply
  5. Ed Spliff on

    IL is backward, wasteful, inept, non-progressive and proud without reason in so very many ways. IL has more laws, restrictions, regulations, rules, fees and downright oppression than any other state. Personal liberty is at its lowest in this state. I could easily see the clowns in power killing the MMJ program if sufficiently induced. Remember, decisions are not made based on the benefit for citizens but instead for politicians and those who hire them. In true liberal fashion, IL wants for everyone to ask them permission before even breaking wind, so allowing the personal freedom to use marijuana is well over the line. Like thousands, I too will be leaving IL for good. IL is a state circling the drain, run by myopic narcissists who are so disconnected from reality they actually believe they are doing a good job! Don’t waste time or money in IL.

    Reply
  6. Edie Hawk on

    I am one of the lucky medical patients in IL. The enrollment is so low I believe because the lack of doctors willing to recommend mmj. I went to my family doctor & she laughed at me. I changed Drs 3 times before I found one. Also the fact that our use of medical marijuana is noted on our driving record, tends to limit some. (I don’t see people who take zanex noted on the record).

    Reply
    • Deborah Schrowang on

      Edie, I wish I could talk to you. Finding a doctor around Springfield without having to go near Chicago or Belleville is near impossible!

      Reply
  7. Deborah Schrowang on

    I have Crohn’s disease and have had since my mid 20’s…….I’m 64 now and not one “high side effect” prescription drug has ever calmed my inflammation which over time leads to a bowel resection which I’ve already had one and nearing my second. I do NOT want to take Humira and choose to try MMJ but the closest doctor that could help me is 150 to 200 miles away. Ridiculous! What’s a person to do! I’m seeing my gastro doctor tomorrow after having had my 12th colonoscopy over the years to discuss what step I should take next! He won’t certify me, I know he won’t. Any suggestions?

    Reply

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