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Why Are Illinois Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Limiting Their Sales?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A shortage of medical marijuana in Illinois has been making headlines lately, and now, we've learned sales are being limited.

As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reported Tuesday, there are disturbing signs with recreational marijuana use becoming legal in Illinois come January. At a medical dispensary, one sign warns with statewide "flower shortage," sales must be "limited."

"Our patients are extremely affected right now," said cannabis patient advocate Kalee Hooghkirk. "We're seeing a huge issue with supply and demand within this state."

Online, another sign tells customers because of a "very limited supply," it's forced to limit purchases.

"We need to know why some of these dispensaries are stocked and why a lot of them aren't," Hooghkirk said.

Hooghkirk is an advocate who counsels cannabis patients. She scanned the websites of 53 of the state's 55 dispensaries.

While most had five dozen product options, a significant number of them – 15 – had fewer than six.

"That's not fair, and we need answers as to why this is," Hooghkirk said.

Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, did offer an explanation. First, she pointed out, it's important to remember that cannabis can't be printed up or mass-produced in whatever quantity the market wants.

"Cannabis is a biological product," she said. "It's grown. It's not a widget."

By video call, Althoff said she blames newer rules from last summer allowing more people than they anticipated to qualify for medical marijuana.

"So you're seeing a rapid growth in that medical program, and it is constraining somewhat, the availability," she said.

Hooghkirk was not satisfied with Althoff's argument.

"Not at all," Hooghkirk said. "These cultivators knew these conditions would be expanded within 2019."

When asked if the greater number of medical marijuana patients was a surprise, Althoff said, "I think we were surprised at the scope."

Hooghkirk asked, "My question is if you pushed for expansion, why didn't you plan for it?"

State law requires dispensaries maintain a 30-day supply of marijuana for medical use first as recreational use comes on line. Some patients wonder if dispensaries could be hording supplies to prepare for increased demand.

To guard against that, the state enacted new standards on Tuesday, saying dispensaries can only put out for recreational sale marijuana that was purchased after December 1st of this year.

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