IL: Region’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Prospers

Photo Credit: Anthony Plascencia

Although the growers and sellers of medical marijuana elsewhere in Illinois report slow growth, officials at an Effingham dispensary say business has been good since it opened in late 2016.

“We are currently at 600 plus patients, and we are pretty proud of that,” said Shelley Esker, director of Patient and Community Outreach for The Clinic Effingham. “We have several physicians throughout South Central Illinois who are supporting our clinic.”

“Our patients are driving 100 miles either direction to come to us,” Esker noted. “We have been growing. We average about 40 new patients a month.”

The Clinic Effingham opened its doors in September of 2016.

Clinic officials are keeping an eye on recent developments regarding the Trump administration’s position on marijuana. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week ended an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the cannabis trade in states where the drug is legal. Sessions will now leave it up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules conflict with federal drug law.

What will that mean for Illinois and medical cannabis dispensaries? Peter Kadens, CEO of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries, which owns The Clinic Effingham, isn’t sure.

“No one actually knows. I couldn’t give you a certain answer,” Kadens said. “But I think the reality is a lot a people believe that cannabis has real therapeutic value and I don’t think that is going to stop us or impact us from being able to service our patients.”

“Mr. Sessions has an opinion and fortunately for us, many of the U.S. attorneys around the country that prosecute people like us don’t share his opinion,” Kadens added. “The important thing to understand is that he did not change the law. What he rescinded was not law, it was merely prosecutorial guidance that allowed prosecutors to have more discretion in terms of who they want to prosecute and when and how.”

Esker said there are good reasons to pursue more options for medical marijuana.

“Illinois has an opioid crisis right now and if they take this away from our patients they are really going to have a problem on their hands,” said Esker. “A lot of our patients have the support of their physicians, and those physicians are helping them step down off their prescription drugs and just use cannabis as their medicine.”

“The stigma with medical cannabis is when some people hear the word marijuana you have to be high,” Esker said. “You do not have to feel that high. There are several different strains you can use without a high dosage of THC.”

There are 42 conditions set forth by the Illinois Department of Public Health as approved debilitating conditions for those seeking medical cannabis treatment. Each patient must have one of the 42 debilitating conditions and obtain certification from by a physician.

A few of the approved conditions include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, lupus, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, hepatitis C, glaucoma, severe fibromyalgia and Tourette syndrome.

“We are offering product from seven cultivators,” Esker said, referring to separate sites that grow medical marijuana. “Seven cultivators equal hundreds of different strains and a varieties of ways of use.”

Soon to be joining those cultivators is a site in Edgewood, “Justice Grown.”

“It is local product grown here,” said Jeff Heiden, manager of The Clinic Effingham. “It will mostly be flower that they will provide.”

Kadens said offering local product is important.

“We certainly have enough product that we grow ourselves, to sell and only provide our product in the dispensary,” Kadens said. “We are a service minded business just like a lot of retail operators and we want our customers to be happy. And right now our customers seek variety, they seek knowledge and we want to provide them a whole host of options.”

“We know that our medicine isn’t the only medicine, we don’t have a monopoly on good medicine,” Kadens added. “That’s why we buy product from a variety of other people around the state. We want our patients to have the best access to the best medicine and that’s not just us. We are proud of the fact we are open-minded and serving the patients the best way possible even if it’s not our product.”

Green Thumb Industries owns dispensaries in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and four clinics in Illinois.

Esker sees a lot of cancer patients, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, and Parkinson’s patients using the Effingham clinic.

“We have elderly patients coming through the door, who have never smoked, never drank or cussed that want to try this,” Esker said. “Because they are tired of taking synthetic pharmaceutical prescriptions.”

The Clinic Effingham employs a full-time staff of seven and one part-time staff member.

Kadens says he and the corporate leaders in Chicago are proud of the work the Effingham staff has accomplished during their first 15 months of operation.

“We are really proud of the folks in Effingham,” Kadens said. “It is not a huge community and Kelley, Jeff and their team have done such an excellent job of being active in the community.”

“Kelley in particular has gone out into the community befriended physicians and community leaders and has done a very good job educating the community,” Kadens added. “That really doesn’t happen with smaller dispensaries in smaller communities very often.”