Illinois MMJ Patients: Have the Floodgates Opened?

Last Monday the Illinois Department of Public Health began accepting applications from patients seeking qualification for a medical marijuana patient card. Months ago, observers were speculating that anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000 patients would qualify to receive MMJ during the first application period. On Friday, the Department of Public Health announced it had received more than 2,000 applications in the first four days of the application window — a number reportedly far in excess of what they were expecting. Thankfully, the online application system seems to be running smoothly and the Department states that it is able to handle the influx of applications without difficulty. (Let’s hope its sister agencies, Ag and Financial and Professional Regulation, which begin taking MMJ grower and dispensary applications today, will be saying the same thing.)

Assuming the stream of applications remains steady through the end of the year (applicants with last names A-L apply through Oct. 31; the remaining applicants through Dec. 31), we can expect more than 30,000 total patients in Illinois when the pilot program finally gets functioning. Dividing those 30,000 patients among the 60 state-sanctioned dispensaries means each dispensary will serve an average of 500 patients, though Department of Health spokesperson Melaney Arnold is quoted by as saying that potential patients (Illinoisans diagnosed with one of the approximately 40 “qualifying conditions”) number in the hundreds of thousands. Of course, location and accessibility, the types of products and services offered, etc. will likely affect demand at any given dispensary, and demand across the state will be affected by the dwindling, but ever-present, stigma attached to marijuana use generally.

Given that patients will soon have MMJ ID cards in hand, now is the time to review some important points patients need to keep in mind, including the following:

  • Not so fast. The Illinois Department of Public Health has 30 days to review patient applications and 15 days to issue a card, meaning first applicants could receive their cards as early as mid-October. But that does not give them carte blanche to begin using medical marijuana right away. A patient is only authorized to receive MMJ in this state, from his or her specified MMJ dispensary. Though there is a process by which a potential patient can ask that a conviction for an excluded offense conviction be waived, we do not recommend going through that extra step and giving the Department of Public Health a reason to revoke your card. Do not be tempted to grow your own while waiting for dispensaries to get stocked up, either. That is and will remain illegal.
  • Designated dispensary. You will not be bargain hunting for your MMJ. At the time of application, a patient must indicate to the Department of Health the district (which may be as large as three or four counties or as small as a few townships in the Chicagoland area) from which he or she expects to obtain his or her medicine. Once dispensary licensing is finalized, patients will have to pick one dispensary from which they will buy. Though you can change this designation at any time, you will have to file paperwork with the state to do so, which may disrupt your ability to obtain MMJ in the meantime.
  • Update your info. If you change names, addresses, or designated caregivers at any time, you must alert the Department of Public Health, usually within 10 days. Again, this requires paperwork, and may mean you go without your cannabis medication while your cardholder file is updated. As soon as you are aware of such a change, contact the Department as well.
  • Caregivers are benevolent and devoted. Patients who are immobile, or those for whom getting to their dispensary would otherwise be difficult, may designate a caregiver who may obtain MMJ in their stead. A caregiver may NOT charge a fee for this service, though in some cases reasonable expenses may be recouped. A caregiver also may NOT procure MMJ for more than one MMJ patient.
  • Don’t DUID or use in public. Once you are frequenting your designated dispensary, card in hand, make sure you wait til you get home to imbibe. Drinking under the influence of drugs (and that includes cannabis) is a serious situation that could lead to revocation of your patient card. Not only should you not drive under the influence, you also cannot use in a car, even as a passenger. You also may not use openly in public, or in residences used for day care. Play it safe here folks and medicate under your own roof.