Medical Pot Farms Finally Get Growing

After a sputtering start, legal Illinois medical marijuana plants are finally taking root.

Multiple marijuana farms have planted crops, and the state is preparing to begin tracking each plant from “seed to sale.”

Five cultivation centers are authorized by the state to begin growing, said Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Kristi Jones.

Two downstate operations — Ataraxia, in Albion, and Revolution Cannabis-Delavan, in Delavan — have announced they have begun farming marijuana.

The state, however, won’t say which companies have been allowed to begin cultivating.

It also won’t say how much marijuana has been planted.

Ataraxia said it’s got hundreds of plants going and hopes to have product available by October.

“We’re going to have oil-based products first and flowers second,” said Ross Morreale, chief compliance officer for the company. “The key difference is when you harvest, you have to let flowers dry and cure. When you create oil-based products, you can skip that process.”

Oil-based products can include edibles infused with oil derived from the cannabis plant, topical creams saturated with the oil or even the oil itself to be dosed out with a syringe, he said.

In addition, earlier this month, BioTrackTHC™ was awarded a three-year, $724,000 state contract for software that will electronically track the cultivation, transportation and sale of medical cannabis. The contract begins next month, state records show.

Growers and sellers will track each plant and product created, said company co-CEO Patrick Vo.

“Every fraction of a gram of medical cannabis material is accounted for wherever it is in the product life cycle,” Vo said.

While this movement points to signs that seriously ill people will likely soon have access to medical marijuana after delays, there are concerns.

“We’re real excited that plants are growing and hopefully we can have medicine for patients by the end of the year,” said Dan Linn, who holds various advocacy roles and serves as director of government and public relations for the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association.

But, he pointed out, a bill to extend the state’s delayed medical marijuana program, which has an imminent expiration date, is still sitting on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, sponsor of that bill, said he has a “good level of confidence” he could override a veto, should the governor reject the measure.

And a list of conditions that would increase the number of illnesses approved for treatment with medical marijuana are waiting for the Rauner administration’s approval.

“It’s not moving quick enough for the patients that are suffering,” Linn said.

Meanwhile, patient counts are still low.

Earlier this month, the state announced only 100 new patients had been approved, bringing the number to 2,600 — far below what advocates had hoped for.

“I think the length of time this has taken has slowed down enthusiasm,” Lang said. “Once dispensaries open there will be a new interest in this.”

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