Extending Illinois’ Medical Marijuana program

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a medical marijuana bill into effect on August 1st, 2013. However, the bill didn’t actually take effect until January 1st, 2014. The bill outlined a four-year pilot medical program for the state which is set to expire January 1st, 2018.

Under the new medical program, doctors were able to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with whom they had a previous and ongoing care relationship with. The law also allowed patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis per two week period.

While the list of qualifying conditions is quite extensive, (up to 39 various ailments) it is not comprehensive in that it did not include PTSD. Current Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 33 in September of 2015. Said bill would have allowed people living with post-traumatic stress disorder to acquire medical marijuana legally. At the time he claimed there was too little evidence regarding the treatment of PTSD with medical marijuana.

According to the state, approximately 3,300 Illinois patients qualified for medical marijuana in 2015. Currently, there roughly 6,000 people approved to buy medical cannabis. This number falls quite short of the 30,000+ estimate many predicted earlier in the program.

One of the main issues that many Illinois citizens face when trying to apply for medical marijuana is getting a doctors recommendation. As previously mentioned, you have to have a previous relationship with your doctor before receiving a recommendation. Not only do you have to have a previous relationship, your doctor has to be willing to recommend cannabis to you.

According to Caprice Sweatt (CEO of Peoria Medical Cannabis Outreach), almost all physicians support for medical marijuana comes from those in private practice. “If they’re only writing them for their normal, everyday patients that have seen them for years, it won’t touch the volume that we have over there [Peoria] – the people we need,” she said. It comes as no surprise that commercial doctors are weary of recommending medical marijuana as it is against federal law.

In addition to this, once you have your medical cannabis recommendation, you then need to apply for your medical card at the Illinois Department of Public Health. Once this step is completed you then need to wait 45-60 days to receive your medical card via the mail. According to the state, the Illinois Department of Public Health currently has a backlog of 2,000+ cards awaiting approval.

A new bill is set to expand Illinois’ medical marijuana law if lawmakers vote to approve it. Gov. Rauner, Republican leadership, and the bill’s democratic sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang have agreed to a pilot extension. Said extension will increase the duration of the pilot from the beginning of 2018 to July 2020. The extension added PTSD and ‘terminal illness’ to the list of qualifying conditions, increasing the number from 39 to 41.

The new bill also states that patient ID cards will be valid for three years instead of just one. When a patient gets their medical ID card renewed, they will not have to give a fingerprint as was previously required.

In the new semi-breakthrough legislature, the bill states that doctors no longer have to ‘recommend’ medical marijuana to their patients. Instead, they will be required to certify their relationship with a patient and confirm they have a qualifying condition. Once this is done, patients will be able to apply for an ID card.

Hopefully, this new law successfully helps more people in need acquire medical marijuana.

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