Medical pot backers aim to expand program


» Courtesy Joseph Friedman

Case displaying paraphernalia at PDI Medical in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. 

By Metro Reporter

MEDICAL MARIJUANA ENTREPRENEURS in Illinois say they are concerned business will capsize if the state’s pilot program does not expand the list of eligible health conditions.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website, 39 illnesses qualify for medical cannabis treatment and roughly 4,000 patients are registered statewide. Because many illnesses are excluded from the list, some dispensary owners are worried.

Joseph Friedman, chief operations officer at PDI Medical in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, said of the listed conditions only “a handful are out there in a big way,” and as a result, his dispensary does not get as much business as he hoped for.

“What’s happening to not only my dispensary, [but] every dispensary and cultivation center around the state, is we are all very concerned about the future of the program,” Friedman said. “It’s the patients that are not going to be served that should be served with this incredible miracle plant.”

For a condition to become eligible in Illinois, it must be approved by the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which is composed of patients, doctors and medical experts who, according to Friedman, are well-versed in the science and benefits of medical marijuana.

After receiving the board’s support, proposed additions to the list of eligible conditions must be approved by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“This isn’t an advisory panel that rubber-stamps every condition,” Friedman said. “They’re looking at how cannabis can really help with the symptoms of these conditions.”

The advisory board has recommended eight conditions for eligibility including PTSD and chronic pain, though none have been approved, according to Friedman.

In Chicago, Dispensary 33 owner Zachary Zises said patients are his first priority.

“We are a mission-driven organization. We are for-profit, but nevertheless we are driven by a desire to help those who can benefit from the medicine we’re selling,” Zises said. “The fact that there are only 4,000 — registered patients across the state — certainly it creates some financial hardship, but ultimately the hardship falls primarily on the patients.”

Zises and Friedman said many of the 39 eligible conditions are rare and Illinois politics play a major role in the process of getting more patients into dispensaries.

“For every legislative act to expand the current program beyond its sunset date of Jan. 1, 2018, the government has vetoed everything without explanation,” Friedman said.

According to Zises, despite the government’s hesitance to support the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board’s proposals, marijuana is safer than prescription pain medications.

“What we dispense here is essentially the safest medicine possible,” Zises said. “People are being denied the oppertunity to treat themselves.”

Zises said recent reports depict numerous deaths due to prescription drug overdoses and, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of marijuana overdoses remains at zero.

William Hollander, a representative of Midwest Compassion Center in Illinois, expressed optimism about the future of the medical cannabis pilot program in Illinois.

The MCC dispensary is currently under construction and has yet to experience the restricted market firsthand.

“At 4,000 registered patients, the industry is not sustainable,” Hollander said in a January 27 email. “Since medical cannabis has become available in Illinois, we have seen an increase in registered patients month-over-month and I believe this number will continue to grow.”

The three dispensary owners agree that if more medical conditions are not approved, their businesses will not survive in Illinois.