The clock is ticking on the state’s first decisions concerning the licensing of medical marijuana in Illinois.
“We’re a locomotive moving down the tracks and nothing is going to stop us,” says Marla Levi, who has submitted an application for a patient card. “I can’t wait!”
Levi suffers from multiple sclerosis, one of 40 debilitating illnesses that are eligible for medical marijuana treatment. She says marijuana, which she consumes in brownies, has done far more to alleviate her symptoms than other prescription treatments.
“It relaxes the whole body,” she says. “It alleviated my pain, lets me sleep better, and pain is part of the MS.”
Only licensed physicians can write a prescription for medical marijuana, and under terms of the Illinois law, any pot must be consumed in the patient’s home. A total of 60 dispensaries will be licensed to fill prescriptions statewide. So far, 211 have applied.
It isn’t clear how many dispensaries will be located in the City of Chicago.
“With the passage of this legislation, we are in a position to help people have relief from chronic conditions,” says Janet Sameh, one of over 200 applicants for a dispensary license. “If we were just money driven, we would make different choices that were a lot less expensive.”
And it is expensive. Sameh and her 12 associates have already spent thousands of dollars on what is admittedly a gamble that they might not even be approved.
“There’s been consultant fees, there’s been attorneys,” she said. “I’m going to guess we invest $150,000 before we even know one way or another.”
Applicants who are granted a dispensary license face what the state hopes are airtight regulations. No building can be located within a thousand feet of a school or day care center. All must be outfitted with high tech security systems to protect not only the pot but what is expected to be large volumes of cash.
No matter how progressive the state believes it has become, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance in the United States. Thus, banks and credit card companies will not be a part of the process. That means the Illinois medical marijuana program will be cash-only.
“We’re going to be lucky if we break even (in the first year)," Sameh said. “We don’t even know if it’s going to get renewed by the legislature. So it’s a gamble on our part!”
Skeptics see a nudge-nudge world where thousands of so-called “patients” will start developing new maladies, descending on dispensaries with custom prescriptions from feel-good doctors. Sameh insists that isn’t going to happen.
“Dispensaries are going to have the responsibility to make sure the cards are valid and the patient is authorized to purchase,” she said. “They are also going to have to have a relationship with the doctor. They can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hi, I want a referral!’”
Some 8,000 patients have already applied for marijuana cards in Illinois.
“The world has opened up for patients, and I’m excited,” Levi said. “I hope that it can be the best that it can be.”