How Big Will the Illinois MMJ Market Be? Depends on Who You Ask

Entrepreneurs rejoice. Crain’s Chicago Business reported last week that the state of Illinois is expecting 75,000 to 100,000 applicants for medical marijuana patient permits in the first year of its medical marijuana pilot program. With that many patients spread across only 22 cultivation centers and 60 dispensaries around the state, and the fact that each patient can purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, there’s a sizable piece of pie for everyone.

Or is there?

Illinois’ NORML chapter head Dan Linn tells Crain’s NORML estimates the number of cannabis patients will be closer to 15,000 to 30,000 in the first year. Frankly, it is hard to know whose estimate is closer to reality. Colorado, with a population of approximately 5 million residents (according to census.gov), has registered approximately 115,000 patients since 2001. Illinois has a population of more than two and a half times Colorado’s, but it also has a significantly more restrictive medical cannabis regime. In other words, far fewer people will qualify for MMJ in Illinois, largely because Illinois’ Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act does not include generalized pain as a qualifying condition for a patient card. When you consider that 94% of Colorado card holders qualified due to “severe pain,” the prospect of a robust first-year MMJ patient enrollment in Illinois seems somewhat dim.

Crain’s also quotes principals of California-based MedMen and Chicago-based Good Intentions as excepting 30,000 to 50,000 patients in the first year, and 400,000 applicants, respectively. We take these figures with a grain of salt, since it is in the best interest of consultants to exaggerate the potential market. We’ve blogged before on the pitfalls of engaging consultants and the legal difficulties of Good Intentions. MedMen also seems to have its doubters. Bottom line though, is that it is anyone’s guess how many patients will be buying medical cannabis in Illinois early next year. If there is big money to be made in this market, it will probably stem more from the limited number of growers and dispensers, than from the huge numbers of patients.

But we (especially our Chicago office) would love to be proven wrong.