It’s been five years since medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois, but there’s still plenty of confusion out there about the state of legal weed in the Land of Lincoln. With 54 dispensaries now open across the state (including 10 in Chicago and 21 in the surrounding suburbs), you’ve got plenty of options if you feel like now’s the time to stop having awkward conversations with your pot dealer and pay a visit to a professional budtender to heal what ails you.
Yet despite the approval of almost 35,000 applications in the state since 2014, and over $85 million in dispensary sales in 2017, Illinois is still a far cry from the stoner paradise of Colorado or Washington. And while Cook County residents overwhelmingly said they'd vote in favor of legalizing marijuana, medical weed remains the only game in town for now -- and comes with a serious application process.
To better understand the current status of medical marijuana in Illinois, we spoke to several experts in the field: Danny Marks, CEO of the MOCA/Modern Cannabis dispensary in Logan Square; Jack Campbell, director of the Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot Program at the Illinois Department of Public Health; and Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, the state’s largest medical marijuana cultivator, which operates three grow facilities across Illinois.
How do I get a prescription for medical marijuana?
You can’t just show up to a dispensary in your Cheech and Chong tee and say you like to party. There are currently 40 approved chronic debilitating illnesses that qualify you to apply for a medical marijuana card, and they are no joke. Conditions include cancer, AIDS, Lupus, MS, Parkinson’s, glaucoma, epilepsy and yes, Tourette syndrome (a full list is available here.) So if you suffer from one of these conditions, you may begin the application process.
To apply, you must be an Illinois resident who has not been convicted of a felony drug offense or violent crime. You must complete a four-page application with the Illinois Department of Public Health that includes proof of residency, age, and written certification from your physician. (Your doctor must also submit a separate form directly to the state on your behalf.) You also must agree to a background check and submit a fingerprint scan after getting one from a licensed fingerprint vendor. You then need to select your cannabis dispensary district, answer some more questions, and send in a $100 application fee for a one-year card ($200 for a two-year or $250 for a three-year card) along with photo ID. While most dispensaries offer advice to help guide you through the process, you can also consult local organization like the Chicago Cannabis Alliance or Good Intentions to handle the application process for you.
Once your completed application has been submitted, you are supposed to hear back within 30 days, but a much-maligned backlog has resulted in significantly longer wait times currently up to 90-120 days to receive your card in the mail from the state. If you are approved, you then have to select which dispensary you will be receiving your cannabis from for the entire year, as they cannot sell to you until you have completed this step. (You can also elect to have a caregiver pick up your weed on your behalf, but this requires some additional hoops to jump through and a different form.) If approved, you are able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks, at an average price of around $16-$18 per gram.
How do doctors qualify to prescribe medical marijuana?
Any doctor can prescribe marijuana, Marks said. No special licensing is required. “The Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program requires physicians to certify the diagnosis of a debilitating condition or terminal illness for a qualifying patient seeking to apply for a medical cannabis registry identification card,” said Campbell. “Whether or not a physician chooses to provide a written physician certification is up to the healthcare practitioner. In other words, physicians do not prescribe medical cannabis in Illinois, they only have to certify that the patient suffers from one or more of the approved conditions.”
Where can I buy medical marijuana in Illinois?
There are currently 54 licensed dispensaries in Illinois, including 10 in Chicago and 21 in the surrounding suburbs including Schaumburg, Oak Park, Evanston, Naperville, Homewood, Joliet, and many more (view the full statewide list here). A list of dispensaries within Chicago city limits (as of April 2018) is below:
- Dispensary 33: 5001 North Clark Street
- Modern Cannabis: 2847 West Fullerton Avenue
- Midway Dispensary: 5648 South Archer Avenue
- Maribis of Illinois: 4570 South Archer Avenue
- Columbia Care Illinois: 4758 North Milwaukee Avenue
- Union Group of Illinois: 6428 North Milwaukee Avenue
- MedMar Lakeview: 3812 North Clark Street
- The Herbal Care Center: 1301 South Western Avenue
- Mission Illinois: 8554 South Commercial Avenue
- GreenGate Chicago: 1930 West Chase Avenue