ANNA, IL (KFVS) - The Illinois medical marijuana program is suffering from a low patient base, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.
An estimated 4,000 patients have been approved to use medical marijuana, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
However, a medical cannabis industry expert who spoke with the tribune predicted that Illinois would have 30,000 patients by this time. The same report found that Illinois' medical marijuana growers and dispensaries are having trouble meeting overhead costs with its current number of patients.
Rock Oliver, 69, is an Illinois medical marijuana patient living in Anna, Ill.
He suffers from a disease called neurotoxicity that has caused permanent nerve damage and makes him sensitive to pollutants and chemicals in the air. The disorder can sometimes make it difficult for him to speak.
Oliver was drafted into the United States Navy in 1963 when he was 17 years old. He served during the Vietnam War as an aircraft electrician.
Following the war, Oliver received his bachelors degree in theology from a California University. He later moved to Mexico to become a prison Chaplain during the 1970s and 1980s.
He taught theology and preached the gospel to American prisoners being held in Mexican prisons.
Oliver founded a contracting business that hired recently released prisoners.
He said he wanted to help them get back on their feet.
Oliver said he likely developed his disorder while working with the chemicals doing drywall and painting work.
Oliver said at one point he was on 10 prescriptions and over the counter medications. Now, he uses two: medical marijuana and allergy medication.
He said some of the prescriptions he was taking also made him suicidal.
"The only thing that has really worked well for me has been the medical marijuana," Oliver said. "It's allowed me to almost be like a normal person."
Illinois' medical marijuana program is in its third year of a five-year pilot program set to expire in 2018.
Patients may qualify for a medical marijuana card for 39 medical conditions since the program began.
In September, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that an additional eight conditions and diseases would not added to the qualifying list.
An advocacy group called the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois has launched a social media campaign including a series of videos and a petition to urge Illinois lawmakers to add more qualifying conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Autism.
Chairman of MCAI, Ross Morreale, said an increased patient base would help more patients and could generate more revenue.
"As long as the program to expand and patients continue to show interest and the numbers continue to increase, I think the program is in a good place," Morreale said.
A recent MCAI sponsored poll found that nearly 70 percent of Illinoisans support expanding the medical marijuana program. The poll was conducted by Harper Polling and surveyed 800 likely voters.
"So far the program is a huge success. Patients have gone from taking, for example 30 prescription drugs a day to some cases zero, which is miraculous," Morreale said. "At the same time we're training a new workforce, bringing more than 500 jobs to the state. Our state needs jobs, it need tax revenue, patients need relief and that combination is a win, win for the state."
More than 18,000 people have signed the petition launched by MCAI to add more conditions to the list.