Patients call Illinois medical marijuana program a success

It’s been almost one year since medical marijuana sales began at dispensaries in Illinois. Sales are now topping $23 million.

People in several states will vote on marijuana measures on Election Day next Tuesday. Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas could soon allow it for medical use. Montana voters are deciding whether to loosen their current marijuana regulations. California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine will vote on whether to permit recreational use.

Illinois allows medical marijuana for 40 debilitating conditions, including cancer and post traumatic stress disorder. There are more than 11,000 cannabis card holders in Illinois and 45 licensed dispensaries, according to state records. Close to the one-year mark since sales began in the state, dispensaries and patients are calling the pilot program successful.

Iraq War Army veteran Donald Spurlock swung by Thrive Dispensary in Anna to pick up medication for his PTSD. It’s all medical marijuana in some form, and Spurlock says it’s been life changing.

"It’s made things better, like I’m actually able to sleep, you know, seven hours," Spurlock said. Before, he says he was getting just three to four hours of sleep.

Before getting the approval for his cannabis card, he says managing his war wounds and PTSD was a challenge, in part because of the heavy dosage of medications his doctors had him on.

"I’ve had massive nerve damage all the way through here from shrapnel wounds, like a chunk out of my skull is missing. And, yeah, this has been an absolute game changer," he said.  In just the four weeks since he started being able to use the medication bought at Thrive Dispensary, he says he’s gone from taking seven medications to just one.

"Honestly, I couldn’t imagine my life without it now," Spurlock said.

Stacey Plott, community and patient outreach coordinator at Thrive Dispensary, says the number of patients they serve in Anna started out small when they opened but has continued to grow. She says many of their patients have come forward, sharing stories of improved health and quality of life since starting medical marijuana.

"It really feels good when you can help someone relieve pain that they have or help them to get started or provide information about it," Plott said.

"This is legal, and it’s helping people. It’s helping people like me, and it’s helping vets like you wouldn’t believe," Spurlock said. He says for the first time in years, he’s feeling like himself again. He says his family and friends are noticing the difference too. He’s back to being happy and easygoing, interacting with his family. He says he used to be a skeptic of marijuana but, having tried and it used it with success, he says he would recommend this as medication. He says it has turned his life around, and he’d like to see others get that same chance to use the medication.

Sales of medical marijuana at licensed dispensaries began Nov. 9, 2015, through Illinois’ pilot program. The program is currently approved to be active through Jan. 1, 2020.

For more information on the medical marijuana pilot program, including how you can apply, click here