Illinois Medical Cannabis: Let the Sales Begin

We know cannabis has been moving slowly here in Illinois, but this week we celebrate.
We know cannabis has been moving slowly here in Illinois, but this week we celebrate.

Yesterday marked a major milestone for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, as dispensaries made their first sales of products to registered patients more than two years after Illinois legalized medical cannabis.  Let’s take a look at where things currently stand.

Though Illinois law authorizes up to sixty dispensary licenses, only nine Illinois dispensaries have so far been given the green-light to open. Many of those that made it through the state’s competitive licensing process have run into snags with local zoning authorities, forcing some to find new locations and prompting others to seek injunctions against cities while they appeal zoning decisions. All of the dispensaries open are either downstate or in the “collar counties” surrounding Chicago, which doesn’t yet have a dispensary open.

Of the nine Illinois dispensaries currently authorized to operate, five were stocked with product for sale to the state’s roughly 3,300 registered patients yesterday. According to Joseph Wright, the Director of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, there should be about a dozen dispensaries open before December, and around 25 before the end of the year. Taking today’s numbers, that will work out to about 130 patients per dispensary. Other states’ dispensaries easily get that many customers per day.

Everybody in the cannabis industry will be keeping a keen eye on whether the availability of cannabis for sale in Illinois will trigger an uptick in patient registration. Other states like Massachusetts, Nevada, and Delaware saw significant increases in patient numbers after their dispensaries opened, and some theorize that Illinois’s low patient count is partially attributable to the unavailability of product.

Illinois’s patient pool could too be on the verge of exponential growth if Governor Rauner accepts the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board’s recommendation to add chronic pain, osteoarthritis, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. A group of patients filed a lawsuit last month challenging the Illinois Department of Public Health’s decision to reject adding conditions, which, if successful, would also bode well for patient numbers.

The silver lining for some of the dispensaries that have not yet opened here in Illinois may be a “second mover” advantage. There could be some benefit in sitting back and watching how the market takes shape and not entering the market until patient numbers and demand starts catching up with supply.

Though Illinois’s program has been slow to develop, it is still the Midwest program that bears the closest resemblance to what commercial cannabis markets will likely look like in the future. License by license, patient by patient, we are starting to see progress here, and by the time our neighbors start rolling out programs of their own, Illinois will be looked at as a regional leader. But we’re a long ways off from that just yet.

To read more about Illinois’s medical cannabis program, go here.