Illinois’ medical marijuana program is gradually recovering from its slow start.
The number of patients enrolled in Illinois’ medical marijuana program has nearly tripled over the past 10 months, according to data collected by Marijuana Business Daily. The program had been initially plagued with delays and low numbers since it launched in August 2013, but experienced a boost in patient count from about 4,400 in January to 12,000 through the end of October.
Monthly dispensary sales have grown even more significantly during that time, up to $4.4 million in October from about $1 million in January. As of November 30, Illinois’s total retail sales for the year reached $30.8 million.
Sales figures for the year have far exceeded initial projections. A report from ArcView Market Research had estimated that the state would pull in $15.6 million in retail sales for 2016. Updated sale projections for the year have since climbed up to $35 million.
Patient numbers and sales have grown steadily throughout the entire year, partly due to an expansion in the program’s list of qualifying conditions. At separate times earlier this year, judges ruled that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and post-operative chronic pain be added to the list. Gov. Bruce Rauner also signed a compromise law that added terminal illness as a qualifying condition.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, the huge spike in patients directly tied to the recent qualifying condition additions has yet to hit, which means sales could soon experience even more significant growth.
Still, many advocates argue that Illinois’ program is not where it should be. While Gov. Rauner’s compromise law added a couple of qualifying conditions and extended the pilot program by two years, it also did away with the medical marijuana advisory board that had played a significant role in recommending the addition of new qualifying medical conditions. The bipartisan agreement gives Gov. Rauner’s administration more control over the future expansion of the program.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Dan Linn, head of the marijuana legalization advocacy group NORML in Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune. “Obviously we’d like to see more conditions added.”
Data provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health indicates that patients are turning more toward cannabis concentrates and infused products. In July, when the state began to provide medical marijuana sales breakdowns by category, concentrates and infused products represented 39 percent of sales. As of October, concentrates and infused products accounted for 43 percent of medical marijuana sales.
Illinois’ Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act is effective until July 1, 2020. The program was originally scheduled to expire in 2018 until the passing of Gov. Rauner’s compromise law extended the program after it got off to such a slow start. Under the current law, patients with a doctor’s recommendation can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana over a 2-week period. Public use is not allowed and employers can fire patients for medical cannabis use.
Illinois is one of 28 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Four states – Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota — passed medicinal cannabis initiatives in November.