Despite the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois and problems with a new patient tracking system, the number of patients signed up for medical cannabis grew by 30% in the past year, while their cited reasons for doing so continue to evolve.
Chronic pain, accounting for 31% of patients, and post-traumatic stress disorder, at 16%, are the most common reasons cited for medical cannabis, followed by migraines and osteoarthritis at 10% each and cancer at 5%.
Patients often say the primary reason for getting a medical card, which can cost around $200 with a doctor’s certification, is to avoid high taxes on recreational cannabis, which run near 30% or more.Cole Preston, a patient and host of the Chillinois cannabis podcast, said the medical cannabis program has had its problems, but changes to allow lifelong certification and the ability to go to any dispensary are big improvements.
He remained concerned that new craft growers in the state will only sell at recreational stores at the full tax rate, not at medical dispensaries.
“I welcome the changes, but I’m still frustrated,” he said.One recent problem was that the state’s new Entellitrak patient tracking system was taken down for two weeks for data migration when officials started it June 22. Upon launching it crashed for another two weeks, according to the state’s annual medical cannabis report.
Patients reported that they couldn’t sign into the system or change their one designated dispensary, forcing the state to order all dispensaries to accept all patients, which has since become law. There were 300 defects in the system through Aug. 17, and the Illinois Department of Public Health reported that it continued to work through ongoing defects in the system.
Thanks to changes in the law, patients now can print their own certificates, and can get lifelong certifications from a doctor, for a $50 fee every three years. Application fees were cut in half, patients may have up to three caregivers, and those 65 and over qualify for reduced fees, along with veterans and people with disabilities.
Even before those changes, the medical cannabis program continued to grow. Medical sales in Illinois began in late 2015, more than three years before adult-use recreational cannabis was legalized in 2020. There were more than 158,000 patients and 55 medical-only dispensaries as of June 30, with monthly sales near $32 million, and total sales since the program began exceeding $1 billion.Retail sales have been nearly equal to wholesale revenue, suggesting roughly a 100% markup at the retail level.
Among retailers, Rise in Mundelein had the most patients, with 5,662, followed by Zen Leaf in St. Charles, Dispensary 33 in Chicago and Earth Med in Addison. Rise, operated by Green Thumb Industries, had four of the top 14 dispensaries in the state.In the early days of the medical program, doctors most often certified patients to use cannabis for relatively rare conditions such as cancer or fibromyalgia, but that has changed since state officials added pain, arthritis and other common qualifying conditions.
While most patients initially were older, the largest group of users recently was among those ages 31 to 40, who made up 21% of patients. Men make up the majority of patients under 50, while women make up the majority of patients over 50.
Among juvenile patients, who made up 2% of the patients, autism was the most commonly cited condition, at 40 patients, followed by PTSD at 32 patients, and seizures, with 11 patients.
About 700 patients were granted more than the standard 2.5 ounce per week allotment, with most of them allowed 5 ounces a week, and the largest group of those for PTSD.
The number of patients receiving cannabis as an alternative to prescription opioids fell slightly in 2021, as the drug become more easily available for other conditions and adult use.