SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois could see changes this year that expand access to medical marijuana, as operators say the number of patients allowed to buy the drug is too low to recoup investments.
Retail sales of medical cannabis in Illinois only topped about $9.3 million last month in the state's pilot program, the Chicago Tribune reported . Operators said the low patient count stems from constraints that state law imposes on the program, which is set to expire in 2020.
Revolution Enterprises' two marijuana cultivation facilities in the state are operating at less than 30 percent capacity, said Mark de Souza, the company's CEO.
"Current market conditions just dictate that we have to operate as lean as possible, assuming extremely slow growth in the overall market," de Souza said. "We can't plan any other way, and that's what makes being a businessperson in this industry a little more challenging."
Gubernatorial candidates have been discussing medical and recreational marijuana on the campaign trail. A plan also has been introduced in the Legislature that would allow patients qualifying for prescription opioids to access medical cannabis.
"You can't flip a switch and make it happen overnight, but if this legislation were to pass, all of us would definitely expand," said Ross Morreale, co-founder of Ataraxia, which owns a cultivation facility in southern Illinois and co-owns dispensaries in several neighborhoods.
Operators have also said making marijuana available to patients who currently depend on opioids for chronic pain could provide significant relief and help curb opioid addiction. Illinois doesn't currently allow medical cannabis access to patients with chronic pain.
The state's medical marijuana program has nearly 30,000 qualifying patients, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which oversees the program. The program currently processes about 400 applications weekly, along with another 250 requests for extensions for medical marijuana cards.