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Illinois allows medical cannabis patients to buy from any dispensary after computer glitch disrupts service

Responding to a software snafu that kept some patients from buying medical cannabis, the state of Illinois alerted dispensaries Monday to sell to any registered patient, rather than following the legal limit of one dispensary per patient.

“The State is currently experiencing an unexpected technical issue which is causing disruption to service for our medical cannabis patients,” the Illinois Department of Public Health announced. “In order to rectify this issue, all medical dispensaries must serve any medical cannabis patient or caregiver that is active in the State’s tracking system, BioTrack, until further notice.”

No active registered patient should be turned away due to issues with accessing the patient’s profile, the alert stated, but limits on purchases will continue to be enforced.
The Sunnyside dispensary in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago on April 12, 2021.

The Sunnyside dispensary in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago on April 12, 2021. (Raquel Zaldivar / Chicago Tribune)


Patients said the problem has been occurring since last week and kept some of them from buying their medicine. They said the glitch was representative of a larger problem, with officials concentrating on expanding recreational cannabis to the detriment of medical customers.

 

Normally, patients are limited to choosing one dispensary at a time from which they can buy. They must register through the state to change locations and must be verified on the state’s BioTrack system.

Since last week, dispensaries have been unable to verify some patients, including those who are newly registered or tried to change shops, said Cole Preston, a patient and host of the Chillinois cannabis podcast.

He welcomed the sudden change in policy to let patients go to any dispensary but wondered why the state hadn’t done so long ago. It’s reflective, he said, of state officials’ fixation on expanding medical marijuana, while patients have had to deal with shortages and products only available to recreational customers.

Patients can buy from recreational stores but would have to pay, in some cases, around 30% more in taxes. With Illinois’ market beholden to very few suppliers, its prices are already twice or more that of other states, making it prohibitively expensive, Preston said.

As a courtesy, some dispensaries in recent days have offered discounts to help offset the higher price of recreational pot but must still pay those taxes. One cannabis official called it a “nightmare.” Health officials were working on a response to the Tribune’s questions about the issue.

Patients may qualify for medical cannabis with a doctor’s certification that they have any of about 50 listed conditions including cancer, osteoarthritis and chronic pain, but the state no longer has a medical advisory board to recommend new conditions. The Department of Public Health is hard to contact and often unresponsive about medical cannabis issues, Preston said.

“I’d give it a very low rating,” Preston said. “In general, our program is profit-centered and not really patient-centered.”

In response to the issue, Cresco Labs, which operates Sunnyside dispensaries, issued the following statement: “We are glad the state is working on resolving this technology issue that has affected patients and dispensary staff — making sure patients can get their medicine continues to be our top priority.”

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