CHAMPAIGN — Fact: 44 Americans die every day from prescription-drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"That doesn't happen with cannabis," Caprice Sweatt said Sunday. "Medical cannabis is a safe, legal option."
With the legal version of the drug set to debut locally in a matter of weeks, the founder and CEO of Medical Cannabis Outreach was in Champaign on Sunday to give a seminar on what's ahead.
Sweatt spoke from first-hand experience — as a longtime sufferer of Crohn's disease, her introduction to medical marijuana in Colorado was life changing, letting her trade 22 prescription medications for one $15 transdermal patch that gives her all the benefits she needs.
It could be the same for some of the 70 or so people who came out for her talk at the Champaign Public Library, she said, including those "pioneers" on hand.
"Some of you people will be making history by being the very first persons in Champaign, Illinois to legally buy cannabis," she said.
The first of the area's two state-licensed local dispensaries — Phoenix Botanicals — plans to open in March at 1704 S. Neil St. in Champaign. The second, NuMed Rx, is planned at the former Blockbuster Video store at 105 E. University Avenue in Urbana.
During Sunday's hour-long seminar, Sweatt covered everything from costs (one gram will go for $20, a quarter ounce $120, a full ounce $385, give or take) to the dangers of buying marijuana the illegal way (she told stories about people pulling dog hairs out of reefer purchased on the black market).
Despite Illinois joining a growing number of states in legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, not every physician is on board with endorsing patients to receive state approval. That's where her organization comes in — providing consultations and referrals to what Sweat called "cannabis-friendly doctors."
"Some doctors have a stack of authorization forms piled up on the desks," she said. "But you would be surprised all the doctors who ask us every day to fax over the forms, and we are happy to do it."
The process for becoming a state-approved medical marijuana patient is a lengthy one that involves fingerprinting and background checks. Among those who don't qualify in Illinois, she said: law enforcement officers, firefighters, correctional officers, school bus drivers, truck drivers with commercial licenses and convicted felons.
Illinoisans must suffer from one of 39 conditions or diseases to be approved. Dan Linn said Sunday that his group, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, will rally Wednesday morning in Springfield, calling on the state to add four more to the list — chronic post-operative pain, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The group also wants the state to add autism, chronic-pain syndrome, intractable pain and chronic pain due to trauma to the list.
By the numbers
Days since then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in Illinois. The local wait won't reach 1,000 — Champaign's lone dispensary plans a March opening.
State-licensed medical-marijuana dispensaries, including the first one in the St. Louis area — Collinsville's HCI Alternatives — which plans its grand opening today.
Illinoisans under 18 who have been approved by the Department of Public Health for medical-marijuana cards as of mid-month. Overall, the state has OK'd applications of about 4,000 qualifying patients.