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Illinois’ medical patient count has seen a remarkable increase after adult-use legalization took effect. In the three weeks following the start of weed legalization in Illinois, the state has had 2,573 patients apply for a medical marijuana card from Jan. 1 to 17. The number is up from 1,922 during the same time period in December.

Illinois Dispensaries Increase Staff

Following the surprising increase of medical marijuana patients in the state, some medical marijuana dispensaries have had to hire more staff to meet the growing demand. Innovative Wellness in Chicago had to make changes in their staffing to help the ramped-up number of prospective patients looking to apply or just ask questions.

“We used to be certifying about 100 patients a week, and now it has gone up to 150,” Dr. Rahul Khare, CEO of Innovative Wellness, told the Chicago Tribune. “We are thinking in the next two weeks we are going to increase to 200 patients per week.”

Medici Health Care in Andersonville and Wicker Pack has also seen a considerable increase in patients. They see about 300 people a week now compared to 180 before adult-use sales began. Veriheal, a retailer with three locations, noted that patients come in not just to apply, but also to ask questions about how marijuana will affect them.

Marijuana Tax Savings Drive Patients

Illinois has had its medical marijuana laws since 2014, but only recently, has there been a notable rise in medical card applications. On the recent influx of medical patients, Khare said, “I think a lot of them were waiting until the recreational became law where they could to go a dispensary, but once they got there they noticed the 30 percent taxes that were there.”

Across the state, counties are instituting local taxes that are set to take effect this year. Chicago imposed a 3 percent tax that will take effect at the beginning of July. Cook County passed a 3 percent tax to take effect this summer. Chicago also has a 10.25 percent sales tax making the grand total up to 41 percent in taxes alone.

Other states that have passed recreational marijuana laws have also seen a reduction and sometimes increase, in the patient count, mainly depending on the taxes. In Colorado, the patient count rose during 2014 as an effort to avoid the 15 percent excise tax. While the sharp increase has tapered off in Colorado, Illinois is experiencing a similar phenomenon.

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Medical vs. Recreational

Getting a medical cannabis card in Illinois has many advantages over remaining a recreational pot consumer. Illinois’ adult-use legalization bill strengthened the medical program by making it a permanent addition and expanding the list of qualifying conditions. Patients may be choosing medical marijuana over recreational based on several benefits.

Some states’ medical marijuana markets have been neglected and, thereby, have suffered a significant drop-off of patients choosing to stick with the recreational market. Medical cannabis patients in Illinois, in particular, are afforded considerable advantages including:

  • Fewer sales taxes: Medical and recreational consumers must pay state and local taxes reaching up to 10 percent with medical patients paying an extra 1 percent. Under the adult-use law, recreational consumers pay between 10 and 25 percent more based on THC content and product type. Medical’s 11 percent tax total is a massive saving compared to recreational’s 20 to 35 percent total sales tax.
  • Home cultivation: Medical patients are the only individuals allowed to grow marijuana for any purpose. Effective Jan. 1, 2020, medical patients are able to grow up to five marijuana plants.
  • Better quality products: Illinois prioritizes medical marijuana patients’ needs over the recreational market. Medical patients are the first to receive medical-grade products that can sometimes be exclusive to medical retailers. Medical cannabis also has stricter rules around cultivation and extraction. Plus, medical patients get to skip to the front of the line at dispensaries.

Illinois’ Medical Marijuana Program

Prospective medical marijuana patients looking to get a card must be prescribed the plant by a doctor. Patients that have one of about 50 qualifying conditions are eligible to apply and receive a medical marijuana card. Patients have to pay a $100 to $250 application fee, depending on the length of time the marijuana card is valid.

Illinois has been focused on making its medical marijuana program more robust. 2019 was a ground-breaking year for medical marijuana patients after Illinois removed fingerprinting and background checks and expanded the list of qualifying medical conditions including people prescribed opioids. The patient count nearly doubled during the year.

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36 medical marijuana dispensaries are currently serving recreational patients with more to come depending on changes in local zoning codes. More recreational licenses are on the way with up to 47 of them in Chicago. More is on the way for Illinois’ recreational market, which despite its limitations, has experienced strong sales compared to other states’ first few weeks of sales.

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