The Medical Marijuana Industry Grows Slowly in Illinois

Medical marijuana sales began in Illinois on November 9, 2015. After seven months, only 9,200 Illinois patients have submitted applications to the Illinois Department of Public Health to access medical marijuana and only 7,000 patients are actually registered with the state’s medical marijuana program.

The number of registered patients in Illinois has been climbing steadily at about 600-800 patients per month according to the Sun Times, but that number is below industry analysts’ expectations. As a result, the 37 medical marijuana dispensaries in Illinois are struggling to stay in business. Without patients, there aren’t enough sales to keep the doors open.

What’s the Problem in Illinois?

For Illinois, the problem with slow patient growth could come down to one very big factor—covered conditions. Cannabiz Media is currently developing a report about the value of marijuana licenses in each state where cannabis is legal, and one of the factors being analyzed is covered conditions. When it comes to conditions, Illinois is a bit of an anomaly.

Illinois covers by far the most conditions in its medical marijuana program at 35. The next highest ranking state in terms of the number of covered conditions is New Mexico with 23, but most states cover just nine to 15 conditions.

The problem for the Illinois medical marijuana industry isn’t what conditions are covered. It’s what conditions are notcovered.

Specifically, Illinois does not cover the most important condition—chronic pain. Across the country, more medical marijuana patients are registered for chronic pain than any other condition. In fact, nearly 60% of all medical marijuana patients are registered for chronic pain, which is three times more than the next most common condition that patients are registered for—muscle spasticity (another condition that is not covered in Illinois).

This is a missing link that has not gone unnoticed, and it’s affecting the marijuana industry in Illinois now and will continue to do so in the future. At the May 2016 Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida, Trip Keber, CEO of Dixie Brands (a leading a major marijuana elixirs and edibles manufacturer based in Denver, Colorado), told an audience of attendees, “We have avoided expanding into Illinois and have no plans to do so in the near future because chronic pain isn’t covered. That means less than 2% of the state’s population would be viable adult-use consumers.”

What’s the Solution?

Looking strictly at covered conditions, Illinois is missing some critical conditions to increase patient registrations. Of course, this isn’t the only factor affecting the industry’s growth, but it’s certainly playing a part.

The state’s House and Senate recently passed a bill that will add terminal illness and post-traumatic stress disorder (the fourth most common condition that medical marijuana patients are registered for across the country according to Cannabiz Media’s data) to its covered conditions. The governor is expected to approve it, and it’s possible that the number of patients will increase quickly once he does. However, the lynchpin conditions—chronic pain and muscle spasticity—are still missing.

Medical marijuana sales accumulated to nearly $10.8 million between November 9, 2015 and May 31, 2016. The state is generating significant tax revenues from those sales, so adding conditions seems like an important step to keep the state’s marijuana program running. It’s still a pilot program in Illinois, but the state’s Senate and House approved a measure to extend the pilot program until 2020 in an effort to increase patient numbers. The governor is expected to approve that measure.

Despite the program’s slow start, these measures should give more patients access to medical marijuana in Illinois. The question is — is it enough to quickly boost registered patient numbers? What do you think?

To stay updated on Cannabiz Media’s state report, which analyzes covered conditions and many other factors across the country, subscribe to Cannabiz Media Alerts.

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