aBy Helen Holzer, MMAA Editor
"I've had more doors slammed in my face by legislators. It's been an absolute nightmare," stated Mike Graham, an early proponent of medical marijuana, who's been fighting the fight for legalization in Illinois for nearly 15 years.
A resident of Kankakee County, south of Chicago, Graham has degenerative disc disease in his spine. "I spent three years in a hospital bed on Oxycontin, not knowing my name. A hospice nurse said I had to get off the 14 different pills I was taking and needed to take some pot. I was down to 130 pounds and couldn't keep food down. At 6-foot 4-inches, I was pretty skinny. I'm up to 250 now. I've been opioid free now for five to six years."
Graham said after all the hard work toward legalization, "We didn't get the bill passed that we wanted. This was not the intent of what we started to do 14 to 15 years ago."
After the state eliminated chronic pain and nausea from the qualifying list, greatly limiting the number of patients who would qualify for medical marijuana cards, Graham explained, "My background's in business. I did the numbers, and based on the numbers you had to have 10,000 patients the first year. You need 200 patients per dispensary to make a profit. No one planned on making money during the pilot program. They planned on getting it extended. If the project ends in April 2018, they will all lose money. Nineteen new qualifying conditions that were proposed were all rejected."
There were 259 licensing applicants for the four-year medical cannabis pilot program in Illinois. He was one of them.
"I applied for both a dispensary and a cultivation center. I spent 11 years putting the program together. I copied off the best and did it the way it should be done. I wasn't in it for the money. Most people who got licenses were from out of state. It was supposed to be a hometown type of thing. That's why we applied. We wanted people to depend on us and we'd do it right."
He continued, "We put together advocates, local businessmen with great reputations. We put together a program with every idiosyncrasy the law provided for. What we didn't do was make promises that we couldn't keep. All of the awardees made promises they couldn't keep. If a local municipality demands that, it's extortion, it needs to be set up on the merits. If you Google it, you'll find folks who didn't follow any rules. This program was supposed to be up and running in 180 days, and right now only a third of the dispensaries are open and only a third of the cultivation centers are operational."
Applicants were required to post $2 million performance bonds to insure the projects would be rolled out in the 180 days that began on Feb. 2, 2015. As of March 1, 2016, 381 days will have passed. "Those not up and running should lose both bonds, and licenses should be re-issued. The clock is ticking," he stated.
According to Graham, "During the application process you were supposed to have your background checks done. Instead, this was done after they were awarded. Two awardees were felons." As for the licensing, "There are so many that were politically awarded. It's embarrassing, even for Illinois. Two sitting judges, relatives of politicians, those in the hierarchy are involved, the governor's former chief of staff and former counsel. Five years ago these people wouldn't even speak to us about medical cannabis."
There was also a lot of money involved.
"I hate to see the amount of money that was spent on this. One gal spent $20 million. She got two licenses and two cultivation facilities."
Graham stated that you have to weigh your possibilities. "One company spent $50,000 per location to protect the ground from freezing even before they knew they had the license. Some had to know from day one that they were going to get the license. This is not conducive to fairness."
Graham grew up working at his family's restaurant, later becoming general manager and area manager for different restaurant groups. He has been a volunteer for Mother Earth Holistic Health for 11 years, saying that out of the 4,400 patients registered in the state for medical marijuana cards, "our group registered 350 of them. Patients must go through a very laborious process: 14 pages to fill out, a doctor recommendation, and a bona fide doctor/patient relationship, which is open to interpretation. You're talking between doctor's visits and card fees, $450-plus to get a card."
Part of the patient's application process includes having his fingerprints taken (at a live-scan vendor), which is then submitted to law enforcement for a state and federal background check. Once approved, the patient's driver's license will include a notation that he's a registered medical cannabis patient, and this would be an annual process.
Graham's advice for patients in the state? "We tried to add mechanisms to expand the number of qualifying conditions, and then we need to extend it past the original pilot program. Months of the pilot program were eaten up through state bureaucracy making the rules."
"People can't afford $20 a gram on a fixed income." With the high price of marijuana in the state, he said, "Let's just say the black market has nothing to worry about in Illinois."
Source: MMAA LLC - syndicated with special permission