By Dawn Schabbing
Nick Weske was injured in Iraq as he searched for improvised explosive devices in 2006. A friend died during another mission shortly afterward.
“It has been a long journey for me,” said Weske, 29, of Greenville.
The disabled U.S. Army veteran obtained his medical cannabis card in July after researching the drug’s benefits for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s become something of an expert on medical marijuana, which landed him a job as a patient care specialist at The Clinic Effingham, the area’s new medical marijuana dispensary.
Diagnosed with PTSD after his discharge from the Army, Weske said his search for answers led to a job that he thinks has great value.
“This job has been a sort of therapy for me because I am helping others,” he said.
Some call the care specialists “budtenders,” a term officials at The Clinic frown upon. Weske said when he’s not working with a patient, he’s learning more about delivery methods and benefits of particular strains of cannabis used for medicinal purposes.
“We focus on your condition and your symptoms you have with that condition,” said Weske. “Using Leafly (a cannabis information resource) or from our prior knowledge, we’ll know what strains help. It’s also based on the person and what works for them.”
Only patients with the physician’s certification showing that they have at least one of 39 debilitating conditions are allowed to file paperwork through the Illinois Department of Public Health to obtain a medical cannabis card.
Among the ailments on the list are Lupus, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, seizures, traumatic brain injury, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, residual limb pain, Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
There are six area physicians working with the The Clinic Effingham, said Kelley Esker, of Effingham, director of Patient & Community Outreach. Once the certification is made the next step is filing for the cannabis card.
The facility is in a secure, high-tech pharmacy environment with a guard just inside the front doors. But, once inside, it is also a home-like, comfortable setting. Nobody enters the patient waiting area without a state photo identification card or a current driver’s license.
The state mandates tight security and the facility is well equipped with as many as 30 cameras and there are no blind spots in the store. Part of the security measures are because the state likes to keep tabs on what is being dispensed, said Zachary Yborra, 28, of Effingham, manager of The Clinic.
Yborra said registered patients may have up to 2.5 ounces of product every two weeks, the security system helps track inventory, as well.
Sometimes the preferred method of intake depends on the result the patient is seeking.
“It’s also about what is the patient looking to get out of it,” said Yborra. “Some want this for pain relief. Some want it to help them sleep. That’s why there’s such a variety, so we can see what works best for the patient.”
David Kurfman, 39, of Effingham is lead security at The Clinic. He has 14 years of law enforcement experience. He’s the first person patients see when they come in.
Once he learned medical cannabis controlled his seizures, he wanted to help others.
“The patients are the best part about working here,” said Kurfman. “People are coming here with serious conditions and are finding help with this.”
Kurfman said he’s been seizure free for six months and over time has dramatically reduced the amount of prescription medications.
“I had been medicated for 26 years and when I found out this works for me, I knew I had to get into this industry to help others,” he said. “I was taking 2,000 mg of Depakote a night. Now, I am seizure-free. Thousands of people are finding this as a real treatment.”
The Clinic offers medical marijuana in concentrates, flowers, vapors and edibles. First-time visit might take more than an hour to learn about the products, the delivery methods and the strains. But, repeat customers who know what works for them can be in and out within minutes.
“I love my job,” said Marilynn Shimboff, Effingham, senior patient care specialist. “It’s a unique opportunity to be a part of this and to be able to help people. It is really fascinating to see what cannabis can do, compared to traditional medicine.”
The first step is having a physician that the patient has an established doctor-patient relationship certify the qualifying ailment exists. These physicians are not prescribing marijuana or even recommending it, but instead declaring that the patient has one of the state’s approved debilitating conditions, Esker explained.
Yborra said so far, they’ve seen several patients utilize The Clinic who are suffering from cancer, PTSD and spinal cord injuries.
“The research I’ve done shows cannabis really helps patients with Parkinson’s disease,” said Yborra. “We’ve seen a few of these patients already.”
Overall, the staff believes the new dispensary is off to a good start.
“Patients are tired of taking opiates prescribed by their physicians,” said Esker. “The community has been very supportive of us being here.”
Dawn Schabbing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-347-7151, ext. 138
By the Numbers
Miles to the next medical marijuana dispensary after Effingham. (Champaign)
Licensed dispensaries with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
Cameras that monitor the activities inside and outside The Clinic Effingham
Number of physical conditions state law allows to be treated with medical marijuana.
Number of area physicians working with The Clinic Effingham so far.
Ounces of “product” every two weeks allowed by law
Medical marijuana dispensaries allowed in Illinois State Police District 12.
Number of active duty police officers, corrections officers, parole officers, and firefighters who can be certified to use medical marijuana in Illinois.
About The Clinic Effingham
The Clinic is located at 1011 Ford Avenue, Suite C, Effingham. It can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Leafly. Direct questions by email to Effingham@ClinicIllinois.com. Learn more at its website at clinicillinois.com. Hours are Sunday noon to 3 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Clinic is closed on Monday.
Kelley Esker, outreach director, holds seminars and meets with patients one-on-one those who want to learn more. She can be reached at The Clinic or at her personal email: email@example.com.