With the number of Illinois medical marijuana patients inching slowly upward to 2,600 on Wednesday, the state's licensed growers are fine-tuning their models to get the right number of plants in the ground.
At least one company hopes to have marijuana growing this summer. Others are still months away from planting. They're all tracking the official patient total with interest and trepidation.
"They're watching it like a hawk," said David Friedman, CEO of Chicago-based MJIC Media, which covers the industry for investors. "It's a huge indication for them" of future paying customers and revenue.
"All we can do is produce the best product we can and stay focused on that," said Emily Wilcox, a spokeswoman for In Grown Farms, which has scheduled city and state inspections this month of its cultivation center in Freeport. "To us the biggest thing is figuring out who the patients are and where they are."
In June, Illinois sent about 100 approval letters to patients who qualify to use marijuana, bringing the total to 2,600, the Illinois Department of Public Health said. About 22,600 people have started the application process on the program's website. Of those, only about 3,200 have submitted a complete application, 100 more than last month.
The low numbers may be related to patient complaints about a fingerprint-based background check requirement. Some patients are waiting to see if the long-delayed program gets off the ground before paying a $100 fee. Some doctors want to see more scientific evidence before agreeing to sign a required form.
The flat numbers fall short — by a factor of 10 to 15 — of figures used in financial models companies relied on as they applied for cultivation permits, said Friedman, who did some of that modeling through another business venture, CFO Worldwide. The models predicted revenues starting around July 1, he said, which hasn't happened.
"They're not even close," Friedman said of the Illinois industry. "I think it's in jeopardy. There's cause for concern."
Patient numbers will increase when sales begin, said Charles Bachtell, a founder and principal of Cresco Labs, which holds three Illinois cultivation permits. Cresco's Joliet facility, the furthest along of the three, may have plants growing in September, Bachtell said. That would put Cresco's harvest in the first quarter of 2016.
He noted that Illinois patient numbers are far ahead of Minnesota, which kicked off sales in its medical cannabis program this week with only 65 registered patients.
"That puts it in perspective," Bachtell said.