Attend a cannabis conference…but not more than 2 of them!

Odds are, most of you have attended a few conferences in your life.  It could have been a gaming/casino industry convention in Las Vegas, 414 Milwaukee Day, LebowskiFest, or a jewelry fashion show in Rosemont, Illinois (Yes, I’ve been to the jewelry fashion show.  No, it was not my idea.  No, I did not enjoy myself.).  You see my point – there are conferences for everything in our lives.CannaTech

Given my professional career, I get to attend a number of conferences.  Pot Conferences.

My guess is that half of you are already smiling at the thought of a McCormick Place-level throng of attendees getting high and eating munchies. Nope, it is not that kind of party.  But if you are curious, let me describe to you what it is like attending a cannabis industry conference.

Let’s start with commonalities with almost any other conference:

  1. Headliners/keynote speakers, endless expert panel discussions with 2-4 panelists, expo’s with businesses promoting their products and services, and lanyards that share your name and workplace.
  2. Convention centers and conference ballrooms, stale hotel rooms, and hundreds or thousands of people you don’t know.
  3. Several days of meetings offering you the best chance to discard a bulk of your 500+business cards, and before you can blink you are longing to return home to your family and personal life.

Here is where cannabis conferences diverge from the norm:

  1. Yes, there is a fairly-constant scent of marijuana throughout the conference from those vaping in their hotel rooms, outside, and perhaps in the stairwell.  Sometimes there are cannabis-friendly gatherings depending on what state the event is in (Colorado=yes; Illinois=no).
  2. The vendors are unmistakably focused on the cannabis industry – promoting their vaporizers and extraction machines, insurance and consulting services, and everything in between.
  3. There is an electricity in the air.  Everyone seems to embrace the presumption that this industry is booming, that it is morally and scientifically beneficial, and will be trending upwards for many years to come.  Attendees also seem to appreciate, and thrive on, the ever-present risk in the cannabis industry that it all could be shut down at any moment by the federal government.  It sometimes feels like a capitalistic version of civil disobedience.
  4. It is not boring.  We are talking about cannabis, after all.

Conference - MJBizSummit2

There are many, many conferences/social gatherings/industry conventions to choose from.  They could cost as little as $20 for a meet-up at a bar, or as much as $750 per person and thousands of dollars per company to stage a booth.  Some of the best are hosted by groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association, Marijuana Business Daily, and Marijuana Investor Summit.  I’ll even shamelessly promote a smaller Illinois conference I helped organize discussing cannabis legal issues.

But as fun and educational as cannabis conferences can be, I would strongly discourage you from making a habit out of attending them.  For starters, they quickly become redundant – betraying how recycled the session information can be.  It can be difficult to see through those peddling B.S. versus those that are true industry experts.  The events are expensive – paying $750 a pop, plus hotel and airfare, can quickly become much too expensive for the likely return.

Finally, the proliferation of conferences diminish the overall value.  Marijuana Business Daily showed how quickly they have expanded by identifying 6 conferences in 2014, but 31 conferences in 2015!

Forbes joined in by interviewing industry leaders on the impact of so many pot conferences:

“You can literally attend, speak or exhibit at an event every weekend,” said Chris Drissen, Chief Business Development Officer at O.penVAPE. “It has really had a negative impact on the attendance and viability of the few shows that are worth going to.”

For those of you considering attending your first cannabis conference – choose wisely and sparingly.  It is absolutely worth going to one, but if you start attending so many that you reuse your lanyard from conference to conference, consider finding other things to do with you hard-earned cash.


Word(s) of the Week: Vertical Integration

Vertical Integration” – Defined as:

  1. The latest Sylvester Stallone movie; or
  2. The psychological impact of being shorter than 5’9″ in height; or
  3. The skill of painting the wall without getting paint on the ceiling; or
  4. When one company owns and controls the cannabis cultivation, processing, and dispensing processes.

The answer, of course is #4.  Besides, everyone knows Vertical Limit starred Chris O’Donnell, while Stallone’s ice mountain climbing movie was Cliffhanger.

In practice, vertical integration represents the ability for a cannabis company to manage every aspect of growing and selling cannabis – from the earliest planting of the seed or clone, through the final sale to the consumer.

A cannabis business often benefits from vertical integration – it allows a company to control quality, create staffing efficiencies, and reduce costs and tax liabilities throughout production.

So why are cannabis businesses not all vertically integrated?  Because the government sometimes stands in the way.

Many medical cannabis states allow (and in fact, require) vertical integration – California, Massachusetts, New York, Florida and others.  Yet others require separate licenses for cultivation, processing, and dispensing – including Illinois, Maryland, and soon-to-be Pennsylvania.  There are some good policy reasons for splitting them up – for example, those that are excellent at cannabis cultivation might be awful at patient education and counseling at a dispensary.  But generally if you find states without vertically integrated cannabis businesses, it is due to regulation as opposed to choice.

This is what advocacy looks like

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a comprehensive medical cannabis bill – SB 3.  It almost didn’t happen.

Pennsylvania’s legislature grappled with many of the same roadblocks seen in Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Nevada, Minnesota, New York, Hawaii, and so many other states.  There were political barriers, bureaucratic challenges, advocacy infighting, anti-marijuana group pressures, and old-fashioned reefer madness.  In the end, SB3 succeeded because of some moms.

Say hello to pure, raw, advocacy:

20160314_162300This is Pennsylvania’s Campaign for Compassion.  I had the pleasure of meeting some of their members last week when I visited the State Capitol in Harrisburg.  In their own words, this is what they do:

We are a Pennsylvania based community resource with the mission to educate the public, as well as our General Assembly, concerning the positive effects of the often misunderstood realm of cannabis treatment. Ultimately, our goal is to work towards comprehensive medical cannabis legislation in the state of Pennsylvania.

But this description fails to capture the unstoppable force they represent when they go office to office, changing the hearts and minds of legislators that may have never met someone whose life was turned around by the use of medical cannabis.

As an example of their significance, the Pennsylvania Senate had passed the medical cannabis legislation almost 10 months ago in May 2015.  Yet in an illustration of the ugly side of politics, the bill was bottled up in a House committee by a hostile representative, Matt Baker.

“I’ve had marijuana bills in my committee for years, and I’ve never moved them,” he said. “This should come as no surprise to anyone.”

What may have come as a surprise to Rep. Baker is that he was no match for the moms – many of whom have children with severe intractable epilepsy.

The bill was moved to a different committee away from Baker’s control, and ushered to passage by several champions including House Majority Leader David Reed with a commanding final vote of 149-43.  Nearly everyone credited the moms with the House passage.  The bill will soon make it back for concurrence by the Senate (with terrific sponsors Sens. Leach and Folmer) and is poised to be proudly signed by Governor Tom Wolf.

This phenomenon has played itself out in numerous states, including Illinois.  Our original legislation excluded epilepsy and seizure disorders from the list of eligible debilitating conditions.  This restrictive bill (sans epilepsy) passed with the slimmest of margins with 61 Yeas and 57 Nays.  Only one year later, after “the moms” organized to add epilepsy, SB2636 passed with 98 Yeas.

The takeaway?  Don’t mess with the moms…


Medical Cannabis Advisory Boards

On January 29, 2016, the Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) announced that Director Nirav Shah had once again rejected adding debilitating medical conditions to the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (“MCPP”).

Though highly disappointing, this came as no surprise to those of us closely monitoring the words of Illinois Governor Rauner.  See hereHereHere.  And even his January 2015 comments here.

“I’m concerned about the process,” Rauner said today during a signing ceremony in Springfield.  “I don’t think it’s been run well.’

No offense taken.

The new Rauner Administration has been a mixed bag with regards to the medical cannabis program (on the bright side, cannabis businesses received their licenses, were allowed to initiate cultivation, and the program was allowed to start patient sales in November 2015 without any government obfuscation or inexplicable delays).

Yet the Illinois Department of Public Health, guided by the principles of Governor Rauner, has twice rejected the recommendations of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board (“Advisory Board”) to expand the program.  The truly outstanding and overly qualified Advisory Board, comprised of doctors and patients, nearly unanimously urged IDPH to add new medical cannabis conditions such as PTSD and chronic pain.


The recommendations were rejected.  No explanation was given.  There is no reason to expect a different result in the future – you know that old saying about doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result…

While many of us are upset and disappointed about the news, I want to focus on the legal side of the ledger.

The Advisory Board is one of the better aspects of the MCPP – designed for the law to evolve over time.  [Full disclosure: I am also a former general counsel for IDPH, and was involved in the creation and appointment of the Advisory Board.]  As more medical cannabis research provides stronger justification for how it benefits PTSD, for example, IDPH has the authority to add the conditions through administrative rules (specifically through the Administrative Procedure Act and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules).

Seems a bit boring, but wait… What if the Advisory Board recommends adding a condition to the MCPP and the IDPH says “no” to the recommendation?  Of course, that is exactly the situation we find ourselves in.

Not surprisingly, those who applied to add their medical condition are heartbroken, and some have even sued IDPH:

“An Illinois veteran is asking a judge to reverse a state decision against adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of diseases eligible for medical marijuana treatment.

“In the case of PTSD, the advisory board voted unanimously to recommend that it be added to the list after hearing testimony about the existing medical evidence.

“Potential patients ‘are disappointed in the governor for going against the recommendations of his own medical cannabis advisory board,’ [Attorney Michael] Goldberg said.  ‘The governor’s office has reversed the board’s recommendations without giving any reason, and they are seeking relief from the judicial branch.”

Can IDPH continue to refuse adding any conditions in the face of repeated Advisory Board decisions to the contrary?  Does IDPH need to give a reason for the denial?  If so, would any reason be legally sufficient?  What role, if any, does the Office of the Governor have?

Much of this will be addressed in court, so I’ll let those questions linger.  But we have some other states to take cues from.

Arizona’s medical marijuana law is one of the models for our program in Illinois, and also includes a Medical Advisory Committee to consider adding new conditions.  Arizona’s Advisory Committee recommended against adding conditions like PTSD in 2012 and again in 2014.  Based on these recommendations, their Director of the Department of Health Services denied the addition of PTSD citing “a lack of scientific evidence.”  When challenged in administrative review, the Department was ordered to reconsider and the Director ultimately acquiesced to adding PTSD as an eligible condition under their program.

“At the hearing, there was substantial evidence showing that PTSD sufferers receive a palliative benefit from marijuana use.

“The preponderance of the evidence shows that marijuana use provides a palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD.”

Minnesota’s medical cannabis program closely mirrors Illinois program in many ways, including an advisory panel to consider new conditions.  Despite the panel recommending against intractable pain, the Minnesota Commissioner of Health decided to add the condition.

As disheartening as the gutting of the Advisory Board in Illinois may be, the Board still offers a unique and high-profile opportunity to present the litany of latest research supporting the medicinal benefits of cannabis.  The Advisory Board may not succeed at adding medical conditions any time soon, but it continues to be valuable and we all benefit from the Board’s thoughtful and passionate members.

If there is any takeaway from this, we should acknowledge that reasonable government officials and medical professionals can disagree on substantive decisions like adding eligible conditions to a medical cannabis program.  But when we are considering treatments for our country’s heroes returning from battle and suffering from PTSD, or solutions for millions of Americans battling chronic pain with addictive opioids freely prescribed by their doctors, we should not stand in the way of medicine that can improve their lives.

Me, Obama, and Marijuana

To be clear, I have never simultaneously been in a room with Barack Obama, and marijuana.  I have been in a room with Barack Obama on a number of occasions.  I have been in a room with state-legal marijuana on a number of occasions.  Never at the same time.  Ever.

But POTUS and cannabis loom large in my life.  More importantly, the President’s two terms have directly led to the current state of affairs with marijuana legalization.

I first met Barack Obama in 2003 after being invited to a fundraiser by one of his University of Chicago law students.  Tickets were $20 each.  Seriously.

Obama was running for U.S. Senate in Illinois, and the fundraiser was at a beautiful home in Chicago’s Gold Coast.  We met.  We talked.  I passed out.  Not from being so impressed with him that I fainted (though I was so impressed I seriously considered dropping out of law school to go volunteer for his campaign), but from drinking wine on a hot and humid day while wearing a suit.  It was a great first impression to make on the future President of the United States of America.

Fast-forward to 2007 and Obama announces a run for the Presidency.  I was all-in.  Fired Up, Ready to Go.  Bob & Obama Announcement1

I started by raising money for him with young professionals in Chicago, moved into healthcare policy committees, and decided to bite the bullet by taking a leave of absence from my job to help manage Jewish community outreach in Florida (see “The Great Schlep“).

Yada yada yada, Obama wins Florida in ’08 (you’re welcome, Barack).

Eight years later I am proud of many of his accomplishments, and have strongly disagreed with some of his policy decisions and actions.

Still, my biggest disappointment in President Obama has been his inaction on pot.  He has nibbled around the edges with criminal justice reform, and it is well documented (admitted in his own biography) that he used marijuana and cocaine in his youth.  But after seven years, thirty-four days, nine hours, eighteen minutes and counting, the President has made it clear that he will not be stepping into to the fray and using his Executive Power to reschedule or deschedule marijuana from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.  For background, marijuana is defined as a “Schedule 1” drug.  This means it “has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”  Marijuana, Heroin, Quaaludes.  All Schedule 1.

Is it within the power of the Presidency to fix our backwards marijuana laws?  And if yes, should he?

The answer to first question is clearly a “yes.”  The U.S. Attorney General (who reports to the President, of course), “may by rule remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.” 21 U.S.C. 811(a)(2).  The U.S. Congress also has the ability to change the Schedule 1 status of marijuana through legislation – and it actually could happen in the coming years despite our dysfunctional legislative branch.

The question of whether POTUS should reschedule marijuana to a less-restrictive Schedule or remove it altogether is a much more difficult question – one that is more political science than Neil deGrasse Tyson science.

Government executives make decisions based on prioritizing issues while considering available political capital.  Obama can’t do everything he wants on every issue he cares about: he has to choose.  He chose to fight for the expansion of healthcare coverage, he chose to invest in passing the most sweeping financial banking reform since the Great Depression, and he chose to shift our international focus away from military intervention and towards peacekeeping multilateralism.  He decided not to push for single-payer healthcare, he didn’t break up the largest banks, and he didn’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He did not try to reschedule marijuana.

His overall record has been mixed – and to me that is not good enough.  On the bright side, his administration has generally allowed Colorado and Washington to play out the recreational marijuana experiment (with Oregon and Alaska right behind).  That said, his U.S. Treasury guidance has been halfhearted for banks considering whether to maintain cannabis business accounts, and his DEA enforcement has been overly aggressive against some using and growing medical cannabis.  Research projects continue to face unnecessary bureaucratic delays, Obama has done little to change federal mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately imprison minorities with petty marijuana convictions.  On the whole, marijuana policy reform has progressed in spite of, not because of, Barack Obama.

Bob & Obama & BidenI’m not saying I want my $20 back from the 2003 fundraiser, but I am saying the President will hear my objections the next time I get to talk to him.  If I don’t faint, of course.

Word(s) of the Week – “Bona Fide” (Patient-Physician Relationship)

Bona FideAdjective.  Genuine, real.

Used in a sentence: Dr. Morgan certified 50,000 patients for the Illinois medical cannabis program, but may lose his medical license because he did not have a Bona Fide Patient-Physician Relationship with all of those individuals.

“Bona Fide Patient-Physician Relationship” is a phrase used often in the medical cannabis world.  Generally it refers to a legal requirement that someone must have a true relationship with their physician before they can participate in a medical cannabis program (along with other requirements).  Simply put – lax enforcement leads to a state like California (over 500,000 patients), and strict enforcement looks something like Illinois (4,400 and counting).

If there is true enforcement, how many visits are enough to make it a “bona fide” relationship?  1 visit?  5 visits?  How much time must pass after the first doctor’s visit?

Arguably, it is one of the biggest reasons the number of registered patients in Illinois is so low – but Illinois is not alone and is not the most restrictive.  States like New York require doctors to take special training, Florida requires physicians to specifically register with the state, and even California’s new law requires a prior good faith examination by a physician (that’s right, California).

This issue is complex, and affects the lives of many suffering from serious medical conditions.  How do you prove a bona fide relationship if you are newly diagnosed with cancer?  What if your longstanding physician is not open to certifying you as a patient and you need to find a new specialist?  What if one doctor certifies a large number of patients?  What medical training or specialization must a doctor have to treat a patient’s specific medical conditions?

There is much more to discuss about bona fide relationships – but we’ll revisit this in a future post!

Super Bowl High – Did the Bronco’s unwittingly boost the marijuana industry?

Over 110 Million Americans watched Super Bowl 50, saw Cam Newton hop away from his own fumble, and witnessed Beyoncé and Lady Gaga fight for the title of biggest pop star (it is clearly “Bae” “Bey”, but Gaga sure did crush the National Anthem!).  But what if the biggest news from the Sunday game was how Denver’s marijuana experiment has successfully gone mainstream – and Peyton Manning was the unwitting promoter of the marijuana industry?

I admit it is a stretch – not a single marijuana commercial aired during the game, the Broncos have not endorsed any local dispensary, and the “Mile High” Broncos stadium is referring to the altitude, not the reefer.  But hear me out…

A colleague of mine first broached this idea, and the more I’ve considered it the more I think he is on to something.

A pivotal moment in the recent evolution of cannabis policy came on August 8, 2013.  On this day, one of the country’s most well known and respected physicians, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, stepped forward to admit that he had been wrong to doubt the medical health benefits of marijuana.  Not only was he wrong, he was now a true believer of its clinical properties to help ailing adults – even children.

“[The DEA] didn’t have the science to support that [marijuana had no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse], and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

That episode, and subsequent follow-up episodes, sent the country’s support for medical marijuana through the roof.

At the time Gupta’s first episode aired, I did not foresee a dramatic impact.  After all, medical marijuana already had strong American support (polls showed 77% support already in 2011).  As a topic that I am passionately involved in, I’ve lost some perspective of how much the general public will absorb pot news. But this reached the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.  Gupta’s admission had significance – it provided the general public (and politicians) with the science to support their emotional ideology.  This was what Joe Biden would call, a “Big F***ing Deal!”

Three years later we have almost 40 states that have recreational use, medical cannabis, or “CBD-only” laws.

That brings us to the Broncos.Broncos - .sanden.

The impact of Denver bringing home a “W” is obviously less blatant or direct than Gupta’s TV specials.  Yet the Bowl has a significantly larger audience.

The most stark impact of Denver winning the Super Bowl is that absolutely no one covered the game by describing Denver as a “pot town,” or ravaged by “criminals,” or endless jokes about the town having collective munchies.  There were a few local media stories about dispensaries near Denver’s football stadium and local venues for Colorado fans to smoke weed and watch the game – but they were barely a blip on the radar.

Colorado has performed admirably under the world’s microscope, and proven the there is far more upside (medically, economically, non-violent imprisonment, etc) than risk associated with cannabis. The Broncos benefit from the media attention (I suppose their talent has something to do with it too), and have shown the country that recreational marijuana use is a non-factor for a pro football team town.

The significance of Super Bowl 50 is how Denver’s widespread and well-known cannabis culture had absolutely no significance for the 110 million viewers of the game.  And that, my friends, is progress.

Photo courtesy Flickr user .sanden. under this Creative Commons license.

Kosher Kush (it’s a real thing)

Cannabis1 - Theo Star of David - MAMJODH12959548834_ebd8c1d19a_m

There is an insatiable press appetite to write stories about cannabis.  That appetite quickly turns into an obsession when you add another hot topic into the mix – pot and guns; pot and cash; pot and politics.

The latest odd combination?  Kosher pot.  That’s right, it has come to this.  We now have national press stories extolling the kashrut elements of reefer.  Predictably, the press jumped all over the story as if Donald Trump had said…well, anything.  It was covered in Newsweek.  Vice had a piece.  Even a local Chabad weighed in.

A number of the cultivation centers and dispensaries in Illinois have Jewish owners or investors, leading me to wonder how soon we will see a hechshered Purple Kush?  I hear some Kosher Kush is already on the shelves.

Full disclosure: although I’m Jewish, I don’t keep kosher.  Yet again, I don’t eat pork (it’s long story – but I do make an exception for the Zuppa Toscana soup at Olive Garden, and anything in France).  Along comes Kosher cannabis – it’s hard to conceive a more salacious topic for me to delve into.

zuppa toscana - queennepy
Zuppa Toscana – YUM!

For those of you that don’t know, “kosher” generally refers to whether the ingredients within a product meet Jewish food preparation restrictions.  Big Mac = not kosher (mixing milk and meat).  Sausage pizza = not kosher (despite how good it tastes).  Lobster Bisque = big no-no.  But what about cannabis?  In general, a cannabis plant would be “kosher,” but it gets more complicated when you add in processing equipment, and especially when you introduce cannabis-infused foods and the ingredients have to pass muster.

I appreciated River North Chabad’s take, delving into the broader issue of Judaism’s approach to a banned substance used for medical purposes:

“Obviously, none of these reasons [of forbidden drug use] would apply in a case where a patient takes these substances following the ruling of their doctor in a controlled and legal environment. On the other end of the spectrum, they would most certainly apply to youths using illegal drugs. For those in the middle, it would be advisable that the individual present his or her case to a competent rabbi before proceeding.”

It struck me as a similar analysis that we are seeing more broadly with cannabis.  On one hand, use is still strictly prohibited by the federal government.  The U.S. Controlled Substances Act makes clear it is “not kosher.”  But if we are to consider cannabis for its medical benefits, shouldn’t we consider it “kosher” in the broader sense?

Pragmatically, there is only a sliver of the population that will be impacted by a kosher designation on pot, but I am pleased to see the dialogue intersect my religious world (Judaism) and professional world (cannabis industry).  It is a conversation I look forward to having in Illinois as the industry matures – so long as we have the conversation at the nearest Olive Garden.

Photo courtesy Flickr users Theo, MAMJODH, Quennepy, and Cannabis Culture under this Creative Commons license.

Word of the Week – “Budtender”

Budtender – Noun.  An employee who assists customers buying cannabis (medical or adult-use) at a retail store/dispensary.  The budtender helps a customer select the best strain, amount, and delivery method for what they are looking for.

Still confused about what a budtender is?  Think of a bartender serving alcohol – just substitute pot for liquor, and instead of someone who can’t tell you the difference between Jack Daniel’s and Pappy Van Winkle, a budtender generally is going to be quite knowledgeable about which strains are best suited for what ails you.

The earliest reference to “budtender” that I could find was a High Times article from March of 2000 detailing the history of the Cannabis Cup, but the term has only gained mainstream prevalence in the last few years.  We’ve come a long way – there is even a “Budtender Society.”  Who knew?

thatsgoodweed: Budtender (n);        The person at a medical marijuana “dispensary,” or “clinic,” who tends to the patients’ medicinal needs. He/she works with you and helps you decide what will be the ideal medicine for you to purchase, and in what quantity.          These are also some of the luckiest motherfuckers on the face of the earth. Despite that, you should still tip them as heavily as you can possibly afford to. via Urban Dictionary

How many medical cannabis patients will there be?  

How many medical cannabis patients will there be?  This question has been asked since the dawn of the Illinois program.  In fact, all medical cannabis programs around the country have played the numbers expectations game.  As with any high-profile program, one strategy is to set expectations that you can meet and hopefully exceed.  This can mean the difference between a headline of “Wave of patients exceed state’s expectations,” versus “Desperation as state fails to explain lagging patient enrollments.”

Every new medical cannabis program is framed by discussions of patient participation numbers.  Colorado had over 110,000 at its peak before recreational cannabis was introduced (roughly 2% of its population), while New York’s kickoff was abysmal at 71 patients (out of nearly 20 million residents).

Bob photo - press interviews

I was asked for my projections the very first time I was interviewed about cannabis, and it has been raised regularly ever since.  In that first interview I guessed that there would be “tens of thousands of patients over time.”

“State officials expect a flood of applications, perhaps “tens of thousands of patients over time,” Morgan said. The state’s medical marijuana program website has received more than 12,000 unique visitors and more than 2,000 people have signed up for email notifications about the program.”

It was my first of many future interviews with the Associated Press in my role as coordinator for the medical cannabis program.  I vividly remember the interview because I was quite nervous, and because it took place over a weekend while I happened to be on vacation in Utah, attending the Sundance Film Festival for the first time.

The interview started well, with anticipated questions and corresponding straightforward answers.  I was walking down Main Street in Park City, the home base of activity for the Festival, and it was fairly chilly outside.  Holding my cell phone with gloves on, I was feeling good about the interview until it happened.

I turned to see three adult men walking down the street in their underwear…and nothing else.  It was at this exact time that the AP reported asked me how many patients I expected for the 4-year pilot program.  I was frozen both literally and figuratively.  I asked the reporter to repeat the question to buy myself some time to get a grip.  I blurted out – “thousands of patients in the first year, and hopefully tens of thousands of patients over time.”

And there it was.

The projection stuck as a basis for many future press stories, and what many applicants used on their financial estimates when applying for state licenses later that year.

The numbers game played out in other instances too.  There was the time Illinois sought a contract to print I.D. for patients.  In the procurement documents we needed to indicate the maximum number of patients that we expected in the next few years – and we projected up to 100,000.  This, too, became a headline and added to the folklore of the pilot program.

As of this blog there are about 4,000 people registered with the Illinois medical cannabis program.  There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands that are eligible with conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and severe fibromyalgia (there is no exact count of eligible patients since there is no accurate statewide tracking of all relevant medical conditions).  So my answer several years ago is still my answer today – I expect tens of thousands of participants in the medical cannabis program over time.  There are variables that will impact the numbers – whether the Illinois Department of Public Health adds new medical conditions, whether physicians become more comfortable with the program and start recommending participation in greater numbers, etc.

But I believe the best answer to the numbers game would be – total numbers don’t matter if even one person is denied access who would benefit from medical cannabis.  If even one person is denied, then our job isn’t done.  The Pilot Program will only be a legitimate success when we are no longer arbitrarily blocking Illinois residents from relief.

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