Medical Marijuana Stores Open In Illinois, But Few Can Access Them

By McCarton Ackerman 11/10/15

The state has made it difficult for patients to get access to medicine they need.

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Medical marijuana was made available for sale on Monday in Illinois, but only a small percentage of the patients who need it for chronic illnesses will be able to access it.

As part of a test program scheduled to end in 2018, six medical pot stores have opened statewide for the 3,300 patients that state regulators have approved. Patients are allowed to purchase two and a half ounces of marijuana every two weeks, which amounts to roughly 10 cigarette-sized joints per day.

Although additional dispensaries will be opened by the end of the year, it’s a far cry from the 60 stores and more than 100,000 patients that were first projected when lawmakers approved the program in 2013. However, those who lined up to buy pot at these stores said they were relieved to be able to reduce their use of powerful narcotics to manage their conditions.

"My doctor was actually proud of me for never taking the pain pills," said Edwin Schlesser, who suffers from a spinal condition. “This is God’s natural gift to us right here. It was a long process (to acquire it), but it's a great day."

All established dispensaries are required to comply with local zoning laws by remaining at least 1,000 feet from schools and daycare centers. They are also required to use a computer database of patients and caregivers that tracks where patients buy pot and the amount they purchase. Qualified patients who haven’t registered online with a dispensary are still required to be turned away.

Customers are not allowed inside the store unless they are certified by a doctor as having one of 40 specified debilitating conditions. Once approved by a medical professional, they must then submit a state-issued photo ID and give fingerprints in order to pass a criminal background check.

The fingerprinting for a background check comes at the patient’s expense and costs $30-60. They must also pay $150 annually for a medical marijuana registration ID card. Those on Social Security disability income could pay a lower fee of $75 per year.

Medical marijuana is currently allowed in some form in 22 other states and the District of Columbia.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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