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Legalizing Marijuana An Education

This file photo shows one- to two-week-old marijuana starts sit under lights at a growing facility in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Medical marijuana became legal in Illinois on Monday, but qualified Metro East patients will have to travel at least two hours to pick up their prescriptions.

Illinois approved nine locations for the first day of dispensation. More sites are expected to open in the weeks ahead, but a spokesman for a state regulatory agency said he’s not allowed to say if any applications are pending for the Metro East or anywhere else.

Meanwhile, the nearest dispensaries are the Harbory, in Marion, 120 miles to the southeast, or Herbal Remedies, in Quincy, 140 miles north.

The second and third patients in line when the doors of the Harbory opened Monday were Trever Oliver, 25, and Drew Perkinson, 24, both of Godfrey. They got there at 7 a.m., Oliver said.

“Words can’t really describe this moment. You wait so long to get the card, and that part was exciting,” Perkinson told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper. “But to be able to come and use and get your medicine, there are no words for this.”

The Illinois Legislature approved the use of medical marijuana in 2013 for those who have a doctor’s permission for a limited list of ailments. Perkinson said he suffers from more than 25 of the qualifying conditions.

Illinois is one of 23 states that allow marijuana as treatment and only the second in the Midwest, the other being Michigan.

Missouri allows only the use of hemp oil, a marijuana extract, to treat certain forms of epilepsy, and has approved two production facilities, both in the St. Louis area.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation lists the nine approved locations, and is considering more applications. Spokesman Terry Horstman said the agency expects to have 25 on the list by year’s end.

Two possible operations have been mentioned in local reports: The Green Solution, a Denver-based company that was considering a site in Sauget, and Chicago-based Progressive Treatment Solutions, which has a license to grow medical marijuana. Company officials could not be reached Monday for either.

Progressive Treatment’s property, in East St. Louis, is on the end of a gravel road near Illinois Route 3 and Interstate 70. A voice on an intercom said he couldn’t provide any information or a contact for a reporter to call.

The building is surrounded by a high fence topped with swirls of razor wire.

The Illinois law, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, allows for a pilot program that is set to expire at the end of 2017. It is one of the nation’s most restrictive, requiring patients to undergo background checks.

It also allows only two dispensaries and one cultivation site in most Illinois State Police districts, including the five counties in Collinsville-based District 11. Neither Quincy nor Marion is in that district.

The Associated Press reported that patients flocked to the first dispensaries Monday to buy medical marijuana at $385 per ounce. About 3,300 Illinoisans already possess the identification cards required for purchases.

“My days of being a criminal are over,” Timothy Stallings, of Macomb, told the Daily Ledger in Canton, Ill., near Peoria.

Stallings said he has used marijuana illegally for symptoms of multiple sclerosis. “I want the stigma gone,” he said. “It’s medicine and it needs to be treated like medicine.”

In Marion, Trever Oliver said the prices were “very fair,” about $50 for an eighth of an ounce. He works as a security officer in Godfrey and he suffers from compartment syndrome, a muscle and nerve condition that causes pain, swelling and sometimes even disability in affected arm or leg muscles.

“It is wonderful knowing that I am not going to have to take any narcotic medications anymore,” Oliver said, “because the marijuana does what the other medications don’t.”

The Associated Press and the Southern Illinoisan contributed to this report.

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