Illinois: Governor to Expand Medical Marijuana Law

Democrat Gov. Patrick Quinn signed legislation yesterday expanding the state’s nascent medical cannabis law.

As enacted, Senate Bill 2623 expands the pool of patients eligible to access cannabis therapy to include those diagnosed with chronic seizures or epilepsy.  Physicians in the state may already recommend cannabis to patients suffering from over 40 other debilitating conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Lupus, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, traumatic brain injury, and hepatitis, C.

Senate Bill 2623 further amends existing law to allow minors diagnosed with epilepsy or other conditions characterized by chronic, debilitating seizures to legally access to cannabis. As initially enacted in 2013, the state’s medical cannabis program prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from being eligible to use medicinal marijuana.

Anecdotal reports of the use of cannabis to successfully alleviate symptoms of intractable epilepsy, particularly in adolescents, have become prominent in the mainstream media in recent years. Specifically, recently released survey data from investigators at Stamford University’s Department of Neurology indicates that the anti-convulsant plant compound cannabidiol (CBD) may significantly reduce seizure frequency in children.

This past fall, the United States Food and Drug Administration granted orphan drug status to imported, pharmaceutically standardized CBD extracts for use in experimental trials assessing the safety and efficacy of the treatment in children with severe forms of the disease, such as Dravet syndrome. And in February, the Epilepsy Foundation of American passed a resolution in support of epileptic patients’ access to cannabis therapy. The resolution states: “The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana. … If a patient and their healthcare professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical marijuana for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option now – not in five years or ten years.”

While Illinois’ nascent medical cannabis program is yet to be up and running, eligible patients — as well as would-be providers — participating in the program are expected to begin applying for state-identification cards beginning in September. Qualified patients are anticipated to be able to begin obtaining medical marijuana from state-licensed suppliers by spring 2015.

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