It no longer matters what Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner thinks about expanding the state’s medical marijuana pilot program; a court ruling handed down this week will force health officials to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the state’s list of qualified conditions—whether they like it or not.
On Tuesday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen swung a hammer-fisted decision at the state of Illinois, giving health officials 30 days to certify PTSD as an accepted condition under the state’s medical marijuana program.
The judge said that he disapproves of how Heath Director Nirav Shah has simply disregarded the recommendations of the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board and that he believes Shah’s refusal to act in accordance with the advice of a panel of experts shows a blatant disrespect for the rights of citizens.
“The director’s legal duty was to review the evidence, review the advisory board’s recommendations based thereon and render a final decision accepting or denying the proposal,” the judge wrote. “Instead, Director Shah engaged in a private investigation, hidden from public view and more importantly, hidden from the parties, and arrived at his conclusion based thereon. This process was constitutionally inappropriate.”
Although the Illinois medical marijuana law gives people the freedom to regularly suggest the addition of new qualified conditions, the Rauner administration has flat out refused to seriously consider the approval of PTSD, as well as several others, because “the State has not had the opportunity to evaluate the benefits and costs of the pilot program or determine areas for improvement or even whether to extend the program beyond its pilot period.”
It was this poor excuse for sandbagging the program that prompted Iraq War veteran Daniel Paul Jabs to file a lawsuit against the state in hopes of gaining some judicial clout in the fight for fair and safe access to a substance the state has legalized for medicinal use. The case is just one in a series of lawsuits filed by disgruntled citizens trying to twist the arm of the Rauner administration to include conditions ranging from chronic pain to osteoarthritis.
“This decision gives [Jab’s] and other military veterans suffering from PTSD the respect they deserve from the state and the governor’s office,” said Michael Goldberg, an attorney representing the plaintiff.
But there is a possibility that Cohen’s verdict will not have a chance to play out to its full potential due to a bill currently on Governor Rauner’s desk aimed at expanding the state’s medical marijuana program, which would include the addition of PTSD to the list of qualified conditions. Rauner, who is said to have been instrumental in negotiating the terms of this legislation, has been given 60 days to sign it or else it will automatically become law.
Although the ruling in Jab’s case does not set any kind of legal precedent, it could end up serving as an important piece of support in the controversy surrounding the federal government’s refusal to provide our military veterans with access to medical marijuana. It was just last week that a congressional committee secretly omitted an amendment from a major military spending bill that would have allowed physicians employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medicinal cannabis to their patients. And while there has been some resistance to the committee’s sabotage tactic, there remains a great deal of uncertainly as to whether any of the lawmakers riled up by this action will be able to persuade leadership to restore the amendment before it goes up for a final vote.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs believes that up to 20 percent of the veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are currently suffering from PTSD. And while the VA maintains that there is no evidence to suggest marijuana is effective in treating the symptoms of this crippling disorder, many veterans themselves credit the herb for saving their lives.