BLOOMINGTON — After the first month of legal sales of recreational cannabis in Illinois, planned expansions of dispensaries and cultivation centers can’t come too soon for Tyler Jon Hargis and Chris Kimmons.
“The medical (cannabis) patients are upset because there is not as much supply as they’d like to see because there is so much demand,” said Hargis, of Bloomington, who has been approved to use medical cannabis to reduce the intensity of his seizures, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This was product that was taken from the medical patients,” said Chris Kimmons of Bloomington, who has been approved to use medical cannabis to ease PTSD, anxiety and night terrors.
Their comments illustrate an unintended consequence of the Jan. 1 roll-out of adult-use recreational cannabis: Some patients approved for medical cannabis have experienced diminished supplies as demand surged.
“In this area, the medical patients didn’t matter,” Kimmons said.
Since Jan. 1, consumers spent $39.2 million on weed — $30.6 million in sales to Illinois residents and $8.6 million in sales to out-of-state residents, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. But even with the spike, Central Illinois law enforcement and health authorities have seen little sign that the legalization has caused extended problems.
“There was a definite boost in January once the dispensaries opened,” said Mike Williams, co-owner with his wife, Becky, of the retailer, whose products include smoking accessories.
“Many were revisiting their youth but we know there are people coming into the store who are trying it (marijuana) for the first time because it’s legal,” Williams said.
Some people were trying cannabis in place of alcohol or potentially addictive prescription pain killers, Williams said.
Cresco Labs had 90,000 registered patients in Illinois on Dec. 31 but that number increased significantly in the first month of legalization of cannabis for recreation, said Chief Communications Officer Jason Erkes. Sunnyside is among dispensaries used by residents of McLean County, which doesn’t yet have a dispensary for recreational cannabis.
“The increase in customers for the first month certainly exceeded our expectations,” Erkes said. “There was limited supply this month which caused us to limit purchase quantities and even temporarily halt recreational sales but, when more supply becomes available and more dispensaries open, we expect Illinois to solidify itself as one of the strongest cannabis markets in the country.”
“Our patients are our top priority and we have completely separate inventories for medical and recreational customers to make sure our patients can always have access to cannabis to help with the symptoms of their condition,” Erkes said.
At its Lincoln cultivation center, Cresco has added 140,000 square feet of indoor and greenhouse cultivation space to its 224,000 square feet to address the growth of the state’s medical market and legalization of recreational use.
Green Solution, under new owners Jushi, has applied with the state to expand its medical cannabis dispensary in Normal to sell cannabis for recreation for adults. The town of Normal approved a special use permit on Monday night.
“That said, it is always a primary objective of ours to ensure that medical patients have adequate access to medical cannabis even with supply shortages impacting adult-use sales,” said Jushi Co-President Erich Mauff.
He added “We plan to utilize our eligibility under each licensee’s location to apply for additional stores.”
Revolution Global announced on Jan. 28 that it would triple its number of employees at its Delavan cultivation center by the end of 2022 because of state approval of recreational cannabis and growth of medical cannabis.
Revolution, which has 112 employees in Delavan, will add 50 after a second, 75,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is complete by June 1, Revolution CEO Mark de Souza said. The total number of employees will grow to 300 when 600,000 square feet of greenhouses are complete by the end of 2022, he said.
Planned expansions can’t come too soon for Kimmons, 48.
His medical issues stem from trauma experienced as a child and young adult because of a dysfunctional family environment. He also has chronic back pain because of injuries he sustained as a teenager and from when he was working in construction.
At his low point two years ago, he was homeless and suicidal. Thanks to working with human services agencies in McLean County, he received counseling and saw a psychiatrist who prescribed medicine.
The psychiatrist certified that Kimmons had conditions qualifying him for medical cannabis and he received a three-year medical cannabis card from the state in October 2018, after paying $450 in fees.
He went to The Green Solution in Normal for a CBD topical ointment to ease his back pain and for Sativa, cannabis that he smokes during the day to ease his anxiety, and for Indica, cannabis that he takes at night to help to ease anxiety so he can relax and sleep.
“To those non-believers, this stuff is keeping a lot of people from taking their lives,” Kimmons said. “I have no desire to drink alcohol and alcohol has caused destruction in my life with DUIs. I know people who don’t do hard drugs anymore because they’ve replaced it with marijuana.”
But late last year, he began to notice that inventory at The Green Solution was diminishing.
“I can get CBD topical anywhere. But Sativa and Indica hasn’t been available,” he said. “Right now, I’m getting THC tablets but they are very weak. I feel like I’m regressing.”
“A cultivation center needs to be developed in this county,” Kimmons said. “And we need more than one dispensary. What this town needs is competition.”
Hargis, founder of the Central Illinois Cannabis Community, said “When it comes to recreational and medical, it’s going the best it can go.
“People are upset. There is high demand for the product. But cannabis is a plant and it needs to grow,” Hargis said. “It’ll take time (to grow enough product to meet the demand). But I can tell you that every single person working at the dispensaries and cultivation centers want to help those people.”
“I’m anxious to see how cannabis can help my community,” he said.
Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.