The 5,000-square foot facility is the first of its kind in the Metro East.
One of just 23 medical cannabis dispensaries licensed in Illinois, HCI Alternatives opened its doors at noon on Monday in Collinsville.
"It’s been a very long road, and we’re all really excited," said Scott Abbott, director of HCI security and compliance, "and I know a lot of the patients who have been calling us are equally excited."
While former Governor Pat Quinn signed Illinois’ Compassionate Care Act into law in August 2013, legal marijuana sales did not begin until November.
The state recognizes 39 ailments that could qualify Illinois residents to use medical cannabis. Multiple Schlerosis, glaucoma, Parkinson’s Disease, and HIV/AIDs are among them.
In order to use a dispensary, Illinois residents must have a doctor’s recommendation, apply with the Illinois Department of Public Health to get the special identification card, and register with a particular dispensary. As of last month, about 4,000 Illinois residents were registered with the department.
Still, the law is considered a pilot program and is set to sunset on January 1, 2018. Abbott admits it makes the medical cannabis dispensary a somewhat risky business.
"So in theory in three years this all disappears and this becomes illegal again," he said. "We don’t think that’s going to happen, and we hope that when legislators see the benefit to this, that they’ll extend the program."
Abbott, a retired Illinois State Highway Patrol colonel and police chief, said he knows medical cannabis has its skeptics. When the law was first introduced, he said he was not in favor of it, either. He said that changed after he did some research and met patients who were looking for alternatives.
"I know there is a stigma associated with this, and I think if people just put their opinions aside and did some research, I think they’ll find there is benefit to this," he said.
HCI Alternatives also has a dispensary located in Springfield, Illinois. The company won't be the only dispensary in the Metro East for long. Another facility is expected to open in Sauget soon.
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