Recreational weed is legal in Illinois, but applications for medical marijuana cards are up

Recreational weed is legal in Illinois, but applications for medical marijuana cards are up

By Ally Marotti

Since recreational weed went on sale in Illinois three weeks ago, long lines have formed outside dispensaries, stores have established buying limits and some have run out of product.

All that was expected, based on what’s happened as other states legalized cannabis. But there’s also been a less anticipated result: More people want medical marijuana cards.

More than 2,570 people applied for medical cards between Jan. 1, when recreational sales started, and Jan. 17, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That’s a nearly 34% increase over Dec. 1 though 17.

Included in that uptick, analysts said, are people interested in using marijuana for medical purposes now that recreational sales are legal. The increase also is driven by consumers looking for a way around sky-high taxes attached to some products.

Medical marijuana has been available in Illinois since late 2015, and about 100,000 Illinois residents already have the medical cards that are needed to buy it at dispensaries. Getting a card can take weeks, but once patients submit the documentation to the state, they are granted provisional access to buy it.

Boosting the ranks of medical customers will further strain Illinois’ nascent recreational weed market and could mean more customers who don’t have a card leave dispensaries disappointed and empty-handed.

That’s because cardholders typically skip the line and the law requires dispensaries to have enough product for patients — a critical incentive amid statewide shortages that have halted recreational sales at some shops.

Doctors around the state who certify medical marijuana patients immediately noticed the swell in interest after recreational marijuana became legal.

“We predicted that there would be a bump in patient load for cannabis certification but not the extent we are seeing,” said Dr. Rahul Khare, CEO and founder of Innovative Wellness, which certifies patients for medical cannabis.

The Lincoln Park practice, which also consults with patients on how to best use marijuana, is seeing about 150 patients per week, up from 80 to 90 before Jan. 1. It has brought on extra staff members and added appointment times to handle the surge.

Humboldt Park resident Dana Balkin had her second appointment at Innovative Wellness on Tuesday and is set to apply for her medical card. Balkin has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which causes an abnormal heart rate when she stands. That often results in severe nausea and dizziness, which can only be relieved by lying down, she said.

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