Medical-pot enrollment, sales up, but less than expected

Medical-pot enrollment, sales up, but less than expected

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' medical-cannabis pilot program has gained thousands of patients in the past year, and retail sales at dispensaries last month were more than double what they were in July 2016.

There are now 23,300 patients in the state approved to use medical cannabis, well over double the number approved at this point a year ago, according to the latest counts from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Retail sales of medical cannabis for July alone were $6.9 million, compared with $2.9 million for July last year.

Despite the growth, one business helping fuel Illinois' medical-cannabis industry contends that too many people in the state remain unaware that cannabis is a legal option for medical use.

"People still don't know it's legal," said Eric Sweatt, president of Pekin-based Medical Cannabis Outreach. "That's my big thing, to let people know it's legal and it's medicinal."

Sweatt said Medical Cannabis Outreach, launched two years ago, started out helping about 20 people a month to access the medical-cannabis program in Illinois, and it's currently up to 100-150 a month.

He wants to boost that number to 200 a month.

Medical Cannabis Outreach operates five medical clinics, including one in Clinton, where patients are walked through the state registration process and doctors are available to patients with qualifying conditions to get them certified.

Sweatt said he's looking to add three more of these clinics — in Springfield, Bloomington and East Peoria.

Using Medical Cannabis Outreach's one-stop service comes with a cost — $400 for veterans and disabled people and $450 for others. That includes the $100 state fee for one year, fingerprinting, a photo for ID cards, a doctor visit to help qualified patients get certified and a service charge, according to Sweatt.

About half of that is for the doctor visit, and the charge is reduced if patients have obtained a certification from their own doctors, he said.

Free help and information are also available elsewhere. Phoenix Botanical, a medical-cannabis dispensary in Champaign, helps prospective clients through the process without charge, according to its assistant manager, Ann Nelson.

That dispensary also makes referrals to Medical Cannabis Outreach clinics sometimes when qualified patients can't obtain a certification from their own doctors, and it also refers people to local doctors who have been willing to certify qualified patients, she said.

"There are some in Champaign and Urbana. There are some in Danville," she said. "We have a list of them all around the area."

The state doesn't have an updated count by county available for patients approved to use medical cannabis, but Nelson said Phoenix Botanical continues to gain new customers.

"We are gaining new patients all the time," she said. "We help them with the application process. And once they get their cards, they call us and come in, and we'll do a little consult with them and help them be familiar with the different options we have."

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has also been keeping educational materials about medical cannabis on hand for clients and has hosted an educational session about it for its adult services staff, said district Administrator Julie Pryde.

That's because the district serves a lot of clients with two of the qualifying conditions, HIV and hepatitis C, she said.

Meanwhile, Sweatt said he's lobbying in Illinois to get the fingerprinting requirement dropped — something he sees as unnecessary and an added expense for people seeking access to the program.

The way he sees it, the number of qualified patients who have been approved in Illinois is on the low side.

"We were expected it to be 60,000, 70,000, and it's way lower than that," he said.

Going up

Some of the latest figures for Illinois' medical-cannabis pilot program as of July 31, and how they compare to those at July 31, 2016, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health:

— 23,000: Applications approved for qualifying patients, compared with 8,891 last year.

— 53: Total licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, compared with 40 last year.

— $81 million: Total retail dispensary sales since November 2015, compared with $16.3 million at this point last year.

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rsp wrote on August 05, 2017 at 10:08 am

I'm curious if the state has rejected any applications. The cost is way too high. It's cheaper to get a gun permit.

chescigar wrote on August 05, 2017 at 8:08 pm

The latest report from the IDPH on the program shows they processed more than 5,000 applications and rejected 356. Rejections were primarily due to failure to follow-up on requests to provide info left off the app or because the fingerprint check showed excluable criminal convictions.

One has to wonder about the state excluding people from effective medicine because of a past conviction. That's the way it is for now, as ethically questionable it is as a policy.

There is a reduced price app for veterans and those who qualify due to low income. 400 vets and 1.450 low income apps were approved. These cards are reduced by half, so $50 instead of $100/year. It should be noted that the program was designed to pay for itself, so no taxpayer funds are used, only licensing fees.

It is notable that NO cards were revoked during the year of the latest report (July 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016). Pretty law-abiding crowd, it seems, in defiance of the slurs made against patients by some.

A new report should be out soon that will tell us more about the most recent year. It will be posted on the IDPH website when it's available.