Few patients expected initially at medical marijuana facility


No more than a couple dozen patients are expected to visit the first medical dispensary in the area during its first month of operations.

"It’s going to be very slow," Columbia Care chief executive officer Nicholas Vita said. Columbia Care will open its dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 6.

Vita said that the initial hours for the facility will be from 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, but the hours will be extended as more patients with a state-issued medical marijuana card register for the facility. Under state law, patients are restricted to purchasing marijuana at one dispensary and must submit the name of the designated dispensary to the state.

About 9,000 people in Illinois have been issued a medical marijuana card, but some industry experts have said that more than 100,000 cards will have to be issued to sustain the industry.

Vita said that a new state law that extends the medical marijuana pilot program to 2020, increases the number of medical conditions covered and streamlines how physicians approve patients for the drug should lead to more people seeking a card.

Vita said that the success of the law will be "more doctor driven than patient driven" because it relies on physicians becoming comfortable with recommending marijuana and filling out a form certifying that the patient has a qualifying condition. The law covers about 40 conditions, including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, terminal illness, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma.

Columbia operates dispensaries in several states, and the type of patient varies by region, Vita said. The average New York customer is a 54-year-old with cancer, and customers at a dispensary in Tempe, Ariz., tend to be younger and suffer from chronic pain, he said.

The Jefferson Park facility will offer marijuana in several forms, including cured leaf from numerous strains, infused edible products and concentrates. Capsules and a vaporized form also will be available by next spring.

Vita said that the dispensary was designed to serve patients who know what they want and those who are learning about medical marijuana. He said that patients can meet the facility’s staff to discuss the procedures.

Columbia chose Jefferson Park in part because of the public transportation options and the availability of parking in the area, and the investment made into rehabilitating the company’s storefront should send a positive signal to other developers looking at the commercial district, Vita said. "It’s a great neighborhood," he said.

Vita said that Columbia will not sell recreational marijuana if it becomes legal in Illinois. Residents often expressed concern at community meetings on proposed Northwest Side dispensaries that the medical dispensaries would be the first approved for recreational sales.

Only registered patients and employees are allowed inside a dispensary. A second dispensary, which will be operated by the Union Group of Illinois, is planned for a former medical supply site at 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Columbia also plans to open a medical marijuana cultivation center in Aurora.