IL: Crossroads For Cannabis – Medical Marijuana ‘Budtenders’ Open Shop In Effingham

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After obtaining his medical marijuana card in March, Jeff Heiden trekked about 100 miles south of his Louisville home to visit the nearest dispensary.

He said that the medication, legal in Illinois since a pilot program began in 2014, changed his life for the better. But traveling so far for it was a pain.

A dispensary is now opening much closer to home, in Effingham. The owners say this area’s central location make it the perfect site to serve people like Heiden.

A computer repair technician, Heiden, 42, is looking forward to the much shorter drive starting this month to The Clinic Effingham.

For Heiden, potent pain-pills for rheumatoid arthritis such as Methotrexate, hydrocodone, valium, and Xanax are a thing of the past. Instead, he inhales a concentrated vapor of his medical marijuana a couple times in the morning and a few times in the evening.

“The only prescription I’m getting now is one for my blood pressure,” he said. “There is an opioid epidemic in this state. This is a decent alternative.”

Program

The Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program began January 2014 under Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration and will remain in place until July 1, 2020. There are about 40 different ailments that qualify a person for the program.

Heiden said dispensary workers, dubbed “budtenders,” are trained to determine the best method for using marijuana to treat a patient’s ailment.

“I did a lot of research looking for an answer for my pain,” he said. “I wanted something other than what I was taking. For nine years I was prescribed Methotrexate, hydrocodone, valium and Xanax. I was taking nine or 10 pills a day,” he said.

Budtenders at the dispensaries are there to answer questions and make recommendations.

“They know what treatment works best with each method,” said Heiden. “The dispensary will give people access to the right medicine and a constant quality of medicine.”

Heiden admitted the process was a bit overwhelming at first, but with the new rules in place and now a local dispensary, he believes local doctors will step up to the plate and be willing to fill out certification forms.

“This will make it a lot easier for patients,” said Heiden. “I had to drive 104 miles, one way, just to have the recommendation written.”

Now free of pain, he said he has more energy and can do more without pain. And the “brain fog” side effects from the pain pills are gone, too.

“With the medical cannabis, I take one drug, many different ways, but with my past pain medicines, I was taking many drugs one way,” he said.

The dispensary will offer patients cannabis in several forms: flowers, oils, concentrates, topical ointments, edibles, suppositories, and more. While there are risks and side-effects with any drug, Heiden said they are far less than the hefty pain pills he’d taken for years.

“There are so many people who need this,” said Heiden. “I work better with cannabis. I’m much more alert and I can focus better than on all those pain meds.”

“I see a bright future for medical cannabis in this state,” he added.

The Clinic Effingham

Patients with debilitating medical conditions such as arthritis, seizures, cancer, glaucoma and lupus may want to talk to their physician to learn about the benefits and risks of using medical cannabis, according to experts.

The Clinic Effingham, located at 1009 Ford Avenue – near the new VA Clinic – is scheduled open later in August for dispensing a variety of forms of the legalized drug. An open house is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday.

If a patient has the appropriate certification forms, signed by a physician, the 3,000-square-foot facility can dispense the drug.

Ben Kovler, CEO of Green Thumb Industries, said his company, based in Chicago, partnered with Nutritional High of Toronto and Ataraxia of Southern Illinois to establish the dispensary.

Michelle Wilkins, the city’s building official, said all zoning requirements were met when the business decided to locate in Effingham. The city typically doesn’t hold public hearing or announce new businesses in any way, unless there is a zoning change required, she said.

“Since the building (shell) was fully constructed, a building permit was required to finish the build-out of the interior of the building space,” said Wilkins. “No other licenses or permits were required from the City of Effingham for this facility.”

Kovler said the partners selected Effingham after spending a lot of time looking at various communities in Illinois State Police District 12. They look for community support, accessibility and security, when choosing a location for a dispensary.

“It is very important for us to be positive members of any community in which we operate,” said Kelley Esker, director of patient & community outreach at the The Clinic Effingham. “Effingham has been great to work with and we look forward to a long and successful partnership.”

Patient certification

The state tracks patients who use medical marijuana through certification.

“The physician has to certify that they have a bona fide patient-physician relationship and that the patient has one of the qualifying conditions,” said Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “The patient will be asking the physician for this information so they can file paperwork from the state to obtain the medical cannabis card.”

Arnold said once the medical paperwork is filed, a police background check has been completed and the patient’s paperwork is completed, then the processing begins. The time frame of issuing a card varies because of all of the factors included.

Once a card is issued by the state, then the patient can take it to a dispensary for the medication.

“We know that we can improve the lives of our patients,” said Esker, the clinic’s outreach coordinator. “One person, one better night’s sleep, one less narcotic or opioid overdose, and one day of less pain at a time. We know there is a lot of interest and a lot of people have questions. We are here to help.”

The dispensary staff has spoken to several physicians in the Effingham area who are expected to certify patients for the use of medical cannabis, based on the state’s mandated list of qualifying conditions. But several clinics contacted by the Effingham Daily News declined to comment.

The Clinic Effingham spokesperson said there is not a “prescription” for using medical marijuana. Instead, the certification form means that a physician has declared that a patient has one of the qualified conditions mandated by the state. The doctor is not recommending the product, but instead certifying the condition, Esker said.

Esker added that making the facility accessible for patients and their families is key.

“The set up is designed around comfort and security to create a welcoming environment for the patients and families,” she said.

There will be three to five people working in the store at any given time, including a full-time security guard. The team could grow to more than seven employees.

Security of the building is also a priority.

“We have alarms, cameras, motion detectors, and 24-hour access control in place to make sure the patients are safe both inside and outside the facility,” she said.

The Process

The patient must have one of the qualifying conditions, such as fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, and many others. A doctor must certify that the patient has one or more of those conditions. A physical is required not more than 90 days before certification.

“We have plenty of educational materials to help patients who are interested,” said Esker. “Awareness of the program, how it works and educating the people in this area are some of our goals. This product can help a lot of people feel better. We are seeing the results, hearing from patients and we know it works.”

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, patients must complete a fingerprint background check, and not have been convicted of one of the excluded offenses, such as a felony under the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, Cannabis Control Act, or Methamphetamine Control. Active duty police officers, corrections officers, parole officers, or firefighters can’t be certified.

The medical cannabis card application fee is $300 for a one-time activation for three years. There are other fees for fingerprinting, photographing, and background checks. The estimated one-time cost for a patient requesting a three-year card, is $935, according to the IDPH website.

Patients may visit a dispensary 24 hours after receiving confirmation from the IDPH.

A physician must qualify the certification every three years.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Crossroads For Cannabis – Medical Marijuana ‘Budtenders’ Open Shop In Effingham
Author: Dawn Schabbing
Contact: (217) 347-7151
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Website: Effingham Daily News