Medical Marijuana Roll Out Flops in Illinois, is the Problem Interest or Access?

A bill to allow medical marijuana was signed in the state of Illinois in 2013. Though the program is not yet operational in the state, problems have been piling up for the medical marijuana market in Illinois. Over 40 conditions qualify under the Illinois state law, including Cancer, Crohn’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s, and patients who qualify are allowed to buy up to two and a half ounces of cannabis for every 14 days. In the first 9 months of roll out, only 2,500 patients have applied and been accepted for medical marijuana cards. There was an initial estimate of about 75,000 people expected to be signed up for the program within the first year. Illinois has a particularly extensive process to get approved for medical marijuana cards including fees, background checks, doctors visits, finger printing, and a paper application. No online alternatives or applications are available in Illinois for the medical marijuana industry. One immediate assumption for the lack of customers in the medical marijuana industry in Illinois is the delayed ability of people to be able to receive medical marijuana in state.

Today, in 2015, patients who have fought so hard to gain the ability to access medical marijuana for their conditions are still not able to access their medicine. 18 cultivation and 52 dispensary licenses, however, were handed out in February. The limited number left many people eager to be a part of the new industry out in the dust, but the most pressing issue is the lack of medical marijuana available in the state to date. Illinois residents, who have already been approved for the medical marijuana plan, still are not able to bring medical marijuana in from other states either. Many of the businesses are worried about being able to open successfully, now that the amount of customers is still so low. The lack of patients may lead to a delay or thinning in the roll out of actual dispensaries in the area.

Illinois, unlike many other states who offer medical marijuana, requires people to qualify under a specific condition, rather than being allowed to use medical marijuana for ailments such as chronic pain or generalized anxiety. Both pain and anxiety are two of the oldest uses for medical marijuana. Medical marijuana has been used across the Middle East and Asia to, “destroy anxiety and bring joy”. Marijuana was also the earliest general anesthetic used during surgical procedures and was used to relieve general pain. The Illinois restrictions which do not allow people to be prescribed for general issues cuts off access for some of the people who could greatly benefit from the use of medical marijuana. In the case of many conditions, medical marijuana provides an alternative to harsh pharmaceuticals. Many traditional prescription medications such as opioids and medications used to treat mental disorders can have harsh side effects, including particular medications with high levels of dependence and addictive qualities. In states where medical marijuana has been approved, there has be a 25% decrease in overdoses on opioids. There has been talk, however, of expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions.

Since the medical marijuana industry is new across the country, and particularly in the state of Illinois, there are also trepidations by patients and doctors to prescribe and take medical marijuana. In Illinois, people must receive a prescription from their regular treatment doctor. In many other states, people can seek medical marijuana licenses from any doctor. Many physicians in Illinois are not comfortable with prescribing medical marijuana because they do not know much about it. Some patients, also, do not feel comfortable requesting it from their doctors due to stigma or judgement. Due to some doctors inclinations against medical marijuana in Illinois, patients do not always feel as if they have a safe space to express their ideas of trying medical marijuana to help with their ailments. The stigma against medical marijuana is decreasing, but many people want a safe space to feel like they can express their desires to try it.

Some people, whether restricted by resources, stigma, or mobility, may not have the ability to schedule doctors office visits. Programs running in other states, like HelloMD in California, allow patients to speak to doctors online from the comfort of their own home. These doctors are also more well versed in the uses and products in the medical marijuana industry, so they are great resources for patients who are new to using medical marijuana. HelloMD, and programs like it, give all patients the tools they need to be able to fully access the benefits of medical marijuana.

One of the largest issues that patients face in the medical marijuana roll out is access to the products they need. States, in large numbers, are recognizing marijuana’s medical purpose in helping treat a wide range of conditions. In Illinois, patients fought hard to gain the access to medical marijuana, but still are not able to get it the products they need. It is important that as states move foreword with medical marijuana, they recognize all of the steps that are needed to implement a successful medical cannabis program within their borders. Producers must be established in the state and distribution plans should be put in to place so when patients are granted access to medical marijuana, they are actually able to use it. The restriction on qualifying conditions also leaves many people who could benefit from medical marijuana from accessing it. The quick expansion of medical marijuana across the United States has begun to open the door for access, but much can be done to provide people with the medical products they really need.

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