While medical marijuana businesses in states like Illinois have been forced to invest unimaginable amounts of money for a chance to sell pot products to qualified patients, some of the dispensaries that have opened their doors over the past few months claim that bankruptcy could be on the horizon if more patients are not given access to the program.
Some of the latest reports suggest that Illinois dispensaries are struggling to stay alive because there simply aren’t enough medical marijuana patients to sustain the program. Joseph Friedman, a pharmacist who operates the Buffalo Grove dispensary, told The Daily Herald that he only services somewhere between “one to three patients a day,” a trend that threatens to put his company “out of business” if something doesn’t change soon.
When the Illinois pilot program was launched last November, there were fewer than 4,000 patients registered for participation. Now, with more than 20 dispensaries in operation and as many as 14 more expected to open before spring, business owners say they would need to see at least 30,000 patients in order to have a fighting chance.
Most of this madness can be attributed to the state’s unwillingness to create a full-scale medical marijuana program, settling instead for one that is considered to be one of the most restrictive in the nation. As it stands, Illinois will only issue cards to patients suffering from around 40 serious conditions, including cancer and Crohn’s disease, but they are apprehensive about incorporating other, more common ailments that would undoubtedly amplify the program for the betterment of everyone involved.
Industry experts argue that Illinois could fix the majority of their problems, and rather quickly, by simply allowing the participation of patients suffering from chronic pain. Statistics show that the majority of the patients in states like Arizona and Colorado are using medical marijuana for this reason. In fact, while Minnesota health officials would probably deny it, “intractable pain” was recently added to its list of qualified conditions in an effort to keep its program from crashing into a pit of total failure. This move is expected to quadruple the number of registered patients, which was approximately 700, as of December.
But there is little hope that Illinois will start taking medical marijuana serious enough to ensure its success. Last year, Governor Bruce Rauner seemed to do everything in his power to prevent the program’s functionality, including vetoing a measure to stretch it beyond its expiration date and one that would have allowed more qualified conditions.
Even though the state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recently approved eight more conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and four pain disorders, the decision to incorporate these into the existing program remains in the hands of the Rauner administration. A decision on this matter is expected to be announced before the end of the month.
Other states, specifically New York, are almost inevitably headed for a similar fate, especially if they do not make an effort to incorporate additional conditions in the mix. Last month, health officials rejected the inclusion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis because they said there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that marijuana was an effective treatment for these conditions. Meanwhile, dispensaries across the state are listening to crickets rather than servicing patients. As of the first day of medical marijuana sales, there were only 51 patients registered in all of New York – hardly enough to keep the lights on in one dispensary, much less 20.
There are some concerns that restrictive medical marijuana programs, such as those in Illinois and New York, are destined to become a model for other states under pressure to put some type of system into place. Pennsylvania, for example, has been struggling for years to come up with a medical marijuana law that appeases the state legislature, but so far, their best plan is at risk of becoming one of the least effective programs in American history.
Part of the problem is that some lawmakers are worried that creating a comprehensive medical marijuana program will lead to an uprising in criminal chaos and stoned kids. This has caused many laws to be developed under the concept of a cautious experiment rather than a progressive development in the world of natural medicine.
Last year, Governor Rauner said he wouldn’t expand the program until “we have had a chance to evaluate it.” His administration now has until the end of January to decide if thousands of additional patients should have access, or whether he will continue to entertain a program set up for failure.