SPRINGFIELD -- One unanswered question about a new state law legalizing medical marijuana is just how many Illinois residents will actually ask for permission to use it.
The extent of the demand should start to become clearer on Tuesday as agencies begin accepting applications from patients or their registered caregivers.
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For now, only those with last names beginning with letters "A" through "L" can apply to Oct. 31. Other patients must wait until Nov. 1 before submitting applications.
The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises reports that some estimates were that as many as 100,000 Illinois residents could qualify.
Sheila Porter, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in an email that the agency was expecting the number of applicants to run into the thousands over the next four months.
"This will build over time as more physicians sign the required paperwork for patients," she said.
Under the law, adopted by lawmakers in 2013, patients must have a prescription from their physician and get a background check. The state must respond to a completed application within 30 days.
To ensure they can handle applications, Porter said state agencies involved in the process -- also including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation -- are hiring more workers.
With time needed to select suppliers, build facilities and to actually grow the marijuana, Lee Enterprises reports that pot for patients likely won't be available until next year.
Last week, officials posted application forms for aspiring medical marijuana businesses. The period to submit them for a limited number of permits opens on Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 22.
For more on the medical marijuana program, visit www2.illinois.gov/gov/mcpp.