Updated Nov. 9, 2015 at 4:42 p.m.
CHICAGO — Regulated medical marijuana sales began Monday in Illinois with patients flocking to state-licensed retail shops in five cities.
Of 23 states with medical marijuana programs, Illinois has one of the most restrictive, requiring patients to undergo fingerprint-based background checks, limiting qualifying health conditions, mandating testing for pesticides and banning home-grown pot.
All the moving pieces and a change in governors delayed the launch. The pilot program expires in 2017.
Among the first buyers Monday was Maggie Chatterton, a 25-year-old homemaker in central Illinois, who drove with her husband and two children 20 miles to the Salveo Health & Wellness dispensary in Canton where doors opened around 9:30 a.m.
Chatterton is emblematic of how Americans are rethinking marijuana. A gardener and beekeeper who sells her wares at farmers markets, she’s concerned about side effects of prescription drugs and believes cannabis is safer. She said she taught her 4-year-old son it’s a natural medicine.
“I’m pretty excited about it. I didn’t think that something like this would happen in Illinois,” Chatterton said. The price — $385 an ounce — seemed fair, she said, for a drug she hopes will help her manage spinal pain.
About 3,300 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards were able to purchase medical cannabis at one of five dispensaries opening Monday. Besides Canton, retail shops in Addison, Marion, Mundelein and Quincy were the first with possibly 25 opening by the end of the year.
In the southern Illinois city of Marion, about 100 people cheered when a dispensary called Harbory opened at 1 p.m. Kevin Sauls, 54, of Ridgway said he’d arrived at 5 a.m. and was first in line. He spent about $100 for a quarter-ounce of marijuana.
“We are making history today,” he told The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale.
Illinois medical marijuana timeline
The road to legal medical marijuana in Illinois began more than a decade ago, when proponents first began pushing legislation in Springfield. After many defeats, a law establishing a pilot program was approved in 2013. Here are key dates since the law was passed:
Aug. 1, 2013: Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, signs the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, making Illinois the 21st state allowing marijuana for medical use. The law authorizes a four-year pilot program that expires at the end of 2017.
July 15, 2014: A legislative committee approves the program’s rules for patients, growers and retailers. Public comments from patients, entrepreneurs and city officials helped shape the rules.
Jan. 1, 2015: A law takes effect expanding the pilot program to allow children to be prescribed non-smokable forms of marijuana.
Jan. 12, 2015: Quinn leaves office without awarding marijuana business permits, leaving the decision to his Republican successor, Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Feb. 2, 2015: Rauner awards permits to cultivation centers and dispensaries after finding flaws with Quinn’s process. Lawsuits follow from left-out investors, but the industry begins to get off the ground.
July 2015: The first cultivation centers are authorized to start growing cannabis.
Oct. 9, 2015: Illinois starts mailing letters to patients telling them to choose a dispensary. Of 70 marijuana businesses initially approved by Rauner, only 12 cultivation centers and four dispensaries are ready to operate.
Oct. 29, 2015: State officials say retail sales of medical marijuana are expected to start within two weeks and ID cards are being mailed to approved patients.
Nov. 9, 2015: First medical marijuana sales begin under the pilot program with 3,300 registered patients. A trade group says five dispensaries are ready to sell marijuana on opening day.