Medical marijuana blazes its way into southern Illinois

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE

As support for medicinal and recreational marijuana grows across the country, Illinois is opening medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state for the first time.

The Harbory medical marijuana dispensary opened on Nov. 9 in Marion, the first of its kind in Illinois along with seven other dispensaries.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports 3,300 patients qualify for medical marijuana. Identification cards were mailed to patients on Oct. 30.


Patricia Summers, a resident of Mt. Carmel, drove two hours to the dispensary, but said it was worth the drive.

“I come down here to get off of pain medicine,” Summers said. “I’d rather have something that grows in the ground than man-made in a factory.”

Summers hopes other dispensaries will open closer to her home because she believes the advantages of medical marijuana far outweigh prescription pills.

“I can still move around. Pain medicine just makes me sit,” Summers said. “It does help me get through difficult stuff, but the smoke seems like it gets me moving a little quicker.”

Rebekah Bass, a medical marijuana license holder, said many prescription medications can be addictive while marijuana has less addictive qualities.

In fact, the dispensary’s owner, Dr. Michele Koo, said patients can become dependent on narcotics over the course of many years, and she recommends medical marijuana as an alternative treatment. Koo said medical marijuana can increase functionally and reduce addiction in patients, as opposed to prescription pills.

“We’re not proposing that this is a first line of indication for any of the indicated symptoms and diagnoses, that’s not what we’re advocating,” Koo said. “These people have tried everything, and nothing else has helped. We really just want to be able to have this as an alternative.”


The registration process was not simple, Bass said. She had to go through a long series steps to get her registration card. 

“You had to be pretty persistent with it and tenacious, but it worked out,” Bass said. “I know there’s tons of people in lots of pain. This is such a huge step forward for the state in general.”

Summers and Bass both worked to acquire a license over the course of a year.

“I’m just glad it’s open,” Summers said. “We’ve been waiting a long time. We’ve been traveling here every month — four hours a month.”

The opening was met with its fair share of opposition, which Koo attributes to prejudices toward marijuana.

“I think people think this is a gateway drug,” Koo said. “It is very safe. It is very regulated. We operate just like a pharmacy. This is medicinal cannabis, and we take this very seriously.”

Koo said regulations at the dispensary have been strict because it is part of a pilot program and both she and others want to keep it legitimized.

Bass originally planned to fill her prescription on the grand opening Monday but chose to wait until the next day in hopes the line would be shorter, where she still had to wait for more than two hours.

While Koo described opening day as a zoo, she has also felt stress because the state has yet to grant some people their cards, causing delays. Koo said when the dispensary moves forward and gains its footing, the facility will provide faster service as they are addressing glitches such as state interactions and product tracking.

“We want to be part of the community bringing a service to the patients,” Koo said. “We’ve heard again and again from our patients that some of them say they’ve been waiting 47 years for medicinal cannabis, so we hope to fill that void. We hope to create some medications and relief from people who traditional medicine has not been able to help.”

Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_DE