Ottawa resident Carla Hortega remembers what life was like prior to using medically prescribed marijuana.
With the pain from fibromyalgia, she couldn't get out of bed.
The pain medications she was taking weren't helping. They made her feel more and more like a zombie.
"I'd take a broom and bang it on the wall when I needed someone to bring me something from bed, that's how bad it got," Hortega said. "After I started using marijuana, it changed my life for the better."
Crediting the daily doses for suppressing her pain and improving her mood, she has since earned a degree in complementary and alternative health.
In 20 days, recreational marijuana will be legal in Illinois.
Long lines are expected as soon as Jan. 1 outside marijuana dispensaries, including the Verilife dispensary in Ottawa, as demand is expected to grow from 80,000 medical marijuana patients in Illinois to about 750,000 recreational consumers.
The Ottawa store has served medical marijuana patients, such as Hortega, since it opened in November 2015. The state has given the store the go ahead at the first of the year to sell recreational marijuana as well.
Cannabis patient advocate and wellness specialist Kalee Hooghkirk, of Full Spektrum Services, is worried dispensaries will run out of products needed to treat medical conditions from the increased demand of new recreational users.
"Already in the last two months, we've seen shortages across the state," she said as dispensaries prepare for recreational use.
Medical marijuana differs from recreational use in many ways, specifically because it is tailored to an individual.
Hortega said there are different strains of marijuana — ones designed for daytime or evening uses — as well as options, such as edibles and creams, to go along with smoking materials.
"There's a lot to choose from, and patients know what works best for them," Hortega said. "There's a little bit of a worry that certain varieties will run out on them."
While Verilife sent an email to medical marijuana patients saying they can avoid lines by traveling 90 minutes to its Arlington Heights dispensary, which is only allowed to sell medical marijuana, Verilife officials do not expect patients to have any issues in Ottawa.
A Verilife spokesman said the state statute is clear both cultivators and dispensaries must prioritize medical patients by ensuring the same array and quantity of marijuana products available before Jan. 1.
"We anticipate ensuring a smooth purchasing process for patients — no lines, no taxes, and no shortages," said Jeremy Unruh, of Verilife. "Our program was premised on bringing relief to those Illinois patients who need it most, and for whom traditional medicine isn't working as anticipated. The adult use law may have expanded accessibility, but it didn't cure cancer or abolish epilepsy. Our first responsibility will always be to our medical patients. That, you can take to the bank."
The state also enacted standards saying dispensaries can only sell recreational marijuana bought after Dec. 1.
Hooghkirk said she wishes the state would have delayed the start of recreational sales to avoid any adverse effects on patients.
"If dispensaries are basing the benchmark on the supply from August through December, that could be problematic, because it's already gotten harder for patients to get what they need," said Hooghkirk, who is questioning why shortages are happening before recreational sales begin. Though she's critical of the explanation, cannabis organizations have said allowing medical marijuana to be prescribed as an opioid alternative has caused more patients than expected, taxing supplies.
Still, Hooghkirk said she wants to teach patients to grow their own marijuana plants. Under state law, patients are allowed to grow up to five plants.
Hortega said she would like to learn.
"I know a lot of patients are considering growing their own, especially if there are any issues at dispensaries," she said.
Hortega is hopeful recreational legalization will make marijuana more accessible to those who don't qualify for prescriptions but may benefit from its effects.
"There are a lot of conditions not on the official list to qualify for a prescription," Hortega said.
Hooghkirk said it's important to remember the experience of buying recreational marijuana will be quite different than going into a dispensary with a prescription.
"It will be more like a liquor store transaction than going to a pharmacist," Hooghkirk said.
Similar to Hortega, Amy Adams Peterson, of Ottawa, and JoAnn Fitzgerald, of Marseilles, both improved their quality of life by using prescribed marijuana.
Peterson uses marijuana to treat endometriosis and fibromyalgia. She said using marijuana as an oil limits the psychoactive effects she felt taking other prescription painkillers.
"Every day is different and with marijuana, you have the ability to treat yourself accordingly," Peterson said. "It took me six months to a year to nail down how to medicate myself, but now I have it down to a science."
Fitzgerald uses marijuana to treat the volume of pain she has from autoimmune diseases.
All three of them agree legalizing marijuana for recreational use can be a positive step toward crushing the stigma that goes with marijuana use.
"I think it will make people more educated and informed about marijuana, and how it can help people avoid addiction, or help with epilepsy or seizures," Peterson said.
Fitzgerald said: "I think it's another step toward legalization everywhere."
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