CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -- For the first time ever, medical marijuana is being sold in Illinois.
On November 9, eight dispensaries opened with four in the Chicago area: Mundelein, Addison, North Aurora and Schaumburg.
“We are excited, we are nervous, it's a lot of mixed emotions,” said Gus Koukoutsakis, co-owner of EarthMed in Addison. “We are really excited to be able to deliver this medicine to so many people that are in need.”
Right now only 3,300 patients have cards in Illinois, but experts say that number will increase. Bill Wilson is a member of that first group and he said he will be one of the first in line at EarthMed.
“To be quite frank, if you would have been talking to me two years ago I would have been one of the people that would have considered it a stigma. I've never smoked pot in my life,” said Wilson about his skepticism for medical marijuana. He is now a registered cardholder, hoping that marijuana will be easier on his body while alleviating the pain he suffers from bulging discs and arthritis of the spine. “Taking pills all the time - it's eating up my stomach. It's terrible.”
Illinois has been creeping towards legalization of medical marijuana for years, but it was not until Friday that the state gave the green light for cultivation centers to ship the product. For now, dispensaries will only "dry flower products" that patients can smoke, vape and cook with. The cannabis will come in child resistant and tamper evident packaging bottles and bags.
Ben Kovler with The Clinic Mundelein said they’ve been getting shipments all weekend long from their own cultivation center in Rock Island and another in Albion, Ill. Deliveries are dropped off securely in a police-style “sallyport” and the first deliveries came with a police escort.
“Just because every one's nerves were a little high,” Kovler explained.
A multiple sclerosis sufferer who only identified herself as “Laura” made her first purchase at The Clinic Mundelein, one of four opening in Chicago’s suburbs Monday. She said she’s relieved to have a legal and natural way to treat the pain, spasms and insomnia that have plagued her for the past 15 years.
“You don’t have to hide,” she said. “It’s really unfair that it's been made to be so shameful.”
Laura has taken prescription pills since her diagnosis and was excited to start using what she calls her “miracle plant.” She bought three kinds of medical cannabis with names like Grape God Bud, Blue Cheese and Jakush at an average price of about $110 for a quarter ounce. She said after smoking it, the tingling in her hand and back pain disappeared.
The line at The Clinic Mundelin started to form at 6 a.m., six hours before it was scheduled to open . The dispensary was supposed to close at 6 p.m., but stayed open until every last patient was taken care of, more than 200 cardholders in about 7 hours. Owner Ben Kovler said a few patients encountered bureaucratic problems; for example, the state require that patients be registered at specific dispensaries.
“It’s all coming together,” Kovler said.
Dispensaries are only carrying dry flower products and expect to receive edibles and oils from the cultivation centers soon. David Fry of Dixon, Ill., waited outside the clinic, hoping to go back inside for a second helping. Limited to buying a quarter of an ounce at first, he was told he could come back after all the patients were first served.
“I didn't get as much as I would have liked and it wasn't as cheap as I was hoping for," said Fry.
Patients who had just purchased their medical marijuana said the process was pretty simple and the staff was helpful.
“They definitely offered a ton of advice," said Rob Weis.
Kovler said there haven’t been any major kinks in the system yet, but that initially supplies might not meet demand.
“But we do know that that's happened in every other state. It's going to come. We are just urging patience on the part of patients,” said Kovler. He said cardholders also need to keep an open mind, because the dispensaries are most likely not what they are expecting. “There is no dried marijuana sitting out it's not what you see in Colorado. It's not a head shop. This is not Cheech and Chong. It's a very professional medical establishment.”
The dispensaries are receiving shipments every day and Kovler said they expect another 10 to 20 pounds of product later this week.
To rate/review the medical marijuana industry, visit Green Junctions
REVENUE AND BUDGET IMPASSE
Illinois' budget stalemate has had no significant effect on the program, which has been funded through fees paid by the industry and patients.
There's no official estimate of the amount of tax revenue the program will generate, but it already has collected nearly $11 million in fees from businesses and patients.
Tyler Anthony, a Chicago attorney with the Canna Law Group, said Illinois patients can be legally impaired for driving with any amount of cannabis in their systems even if not "subjectively impaired."
"Some patients, especially those who medicate regularly, may walk around legally impaired without even realizing it," Anthony said. Illinois law offers some protection from arrest, stating that a cannabis ID card does not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion and can't be used alone as justification for a search.
"Even though there are these statutory protections, patients should prepare to be asked about their cards" during traffic stops, he said. "It's important that they know their rights during traffic stops and other interactions with police."
ON THE JOB
Patients can get fired for using marijuana in violation of a workplace drug policy. Illinois law allows employers to enforce drug-free workplace requirements, including drug testing. On the other hand, employers can choose to allow workers to use medical marijuana.
"You never know how an employer might react," said Bob Morgan, president of the Illinois Cannabis Bar Association and the former coordinator of the Illinois program. While there's an argument for being upfront with an employer, Morgan said, "generally speaking, I expect most employers won't overtly allow the use of cannabis."
CROSSING STATE LINES
An Illinois driver's license is good in other states. Can a card-holding patient use marijuana in another state while on vacation?
It depends, Anthony said. "By my count, Illinois patients can obtain medical cannabis products in seven states (Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Rhode Island), and at least two others eventually, once their programs are up and running (Maryland & Hawaii)."
Patients must register with the state where they want to buy. Federal and state laws prohibit transporting marijuana across state lines.
"Obviously, patients cannot return with their medicine from out of state," Anthony said. "But if they are on an extended visit or vacation, they don't have to worry about bringing their medicine with them."
PRICES AND TRACKING
A digital tracking system discourages diversion of marijuana to the black market. Illinois is monitoring products from seed to sale.
High prices also discourage diversion. With medicine costing roughly the same as illegal weed, patients won't have a financial incentive to become dealers.
"My days of being a criminal are over," Timothy Stallings of Macomb, told the Canton Daily Ledger, as he purchased marijuana for multiple sclerosis. He acknowledges using marijuana illegally for his symptoms in the past. "I want the stigma gone. It's medicine and it needs to be treated like medicine."