Medical Marijuana Opportunities And Challenges

Oct 8, 2014

The production and distribution of medical marijuana is slowly coming together in Illinois. It’s a complicated process with a lot of factors that need to be worked out before the first patient picks up medication from a state dispensary.

Credit (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Among the issues is the review of cultivation center and dispensary applications. There’s not much known about the 159 applications from companies that want to get into the marijuana-growing business in Illinois. The state is reviewing the cultivation center applications and expects to assign 21 licenses by the end of the year. There will be 60 dispensaries. One southern Illinois attorney has made it his business to follow the state’s medical marijuana legalization process.

Bradley Vallerius says medical marijuana is the “hottest economic opportunity in the U.S.”  21 cultivation centers plus 60 dispensaries equals 81 new businesses. So he wrote a book and started a website: he calls them a practical guide to Illinois’ new marijuana law.

He says from what he sees, the cultivation center applications are from a mix of entrepreneurs: some from Illinois, many from the rest of the country. Vallerius adds potential home-state growers need to team up with out-of-staters: “Part of the application entailed explain your experience with cannabis. You can’t do that in Illinois. If you are in Illinois and detail your cannabis experience, you have admitted to breaking the law.”

So some Illinois companies are recruiting cultivators from experienced states such as Colorado and California. Others aren’t bothering to look for an Illinois connection at all. Vallerius says “some of these groups are entirely from other states. In fact, this is their business model now. They go from state to state, applying for a license in every state. They want to be the Budweiser of cannabis.”

Potential patients are applying for their medical marijuana cards now…while the complicated, heavily-regulated system is still being set up. Illinois’ medical marijuana law is recognized as the strictest in the country.

Another major concern is how to keep the experimental medication out of the hands of children.

First, it’s tough to find the type of scientific studies about medical marijuana that doctors are used to seeing when prescribing a drug. One of the biggest reasons for that is the federal government classifies it as a C1 drug: there’s no medical value. Pharmacist John Chaney says that’s why people in his industry can’t be involved in the state’s medical marijuana experiment: “until they get the federal law changed, the extensive university based, pharmaceutical based studies that go on, you won’t see that until that C1 designation changes.”

Chaney says he’s concerned about drug interactions going undetected without pharmacists in the doctor-patient mix. He’s also worried about children getting into the edible versions of the drug if patients aren’t careful: the cookies, crackers, brownies, gummy candy… He says emergency rooms must be prepared to handle a big increase in pediatric overdose cases, as Colorado has experienced.

Attorney Bradley Vallerius has written a guide to the state’s medical marijuana law: he says edibles will be packaged in opaque bags with a pinch and zip design similar to child safety caps on pill bottles.

Chaney says while no one dies of a marijuana overdose, some side effects could lead to pretty bad conditions for children: like dehydration as a result of vomiting. He says the Illinois Poison Control Center is a good resource and has been preparing for an uptick in pediatric cases.