Illinois' medical marijuana pilot program had nearly 8,000 approved patients in early July, up from 4,000 patients at the beginning of the year according to the state Department of Public Health.
Lawmakers approved the pilot program in 2013 but legal cannabis sales to patients began in Nov. 9, 2015.
Joe Friedman, co-owner of PDI Medical, a cannabis dispensary in suburban Buffalo Grove, said restrictive legislation slowed the growth of the program. “I think the program has been under a lot of pressure because we haven’t been able to approve new conditions, we definitely need to educate more patients and more doctors, but it’s a slow process."
Medical marijuana experts say Illinois' program needs 120,000 patients to support the industry.
There are pending lawsuits against the Department of Public Health seeking to add more conditions to the eligibility list including intractable pain, osteoarthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Although the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted unanimously to add the conditions to the list, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration rejected their inclusion. Rauner recently signed legislation extending the pilot program for two-and-a-half years and adding two more qualifying medical conditions -- post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and terminal illness, defined as individuals with less than six months to live.
Friedman said the expanded list of conditions will help the program grow. “I think that’s what we’re doing right now is building up steam as more physicians get comfortable with this. And then new legislation just came out, SB10, which is going to make it easier for patients, easier for doctors."
Pain is the No. 1 reason cannabis is used throughout the world, he said. “And pain is still not a qualifying condition in Illinois.”
Friedman said it is up to the limited number of patients in Illinois who are having success with the treatment to go back to their doctors and tell them how much of a difference medical marijuana is making in their lives.