Illinois Prepares for Medical Marijuana Upgrade

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Although the Illinois medical marijuana pilot program came limping out of the gate last year, the state’s General Assembly has put its stamp of approval on a bill aimed at upgrading the state of cannabis medicine by extending the program’s expiration date and giving those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal illnesses permission to participate.

The guts of this modest expansion effort consist of Senate Bill 10, a proposal begging Governor Bruce Rauner not to kill off the state’s medical marijuana program for a few more years. When the Illinois Medical Cannabis Program was pushed through back in 2013, it came marred with a “sunset provision” that insisted the state had until the beginning of 2018 to test the waters of cannabis medicine before deciding whether to sign on a more permanent plan. If the governor signs the latest measure, which is expected, the pilot program would remain on the books until the summer of 2020, not to mention give thousands more patients an opportunity to use medical marijuana as part of their overall healthcare strategy.

One particular group of patients that stands to benefit greatly from the expansion is military veterans. Despite the state’s willingness to provide vets with access to weed without a recommendation from a doctor employed through the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of these people have been unable to participate because PTSD is not covered under the original pilot program. However, the new bill would tear down this barrier, giving veterans who suffer from this severe anxiety disorder a safer alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.

“I see a lot of vets with PTSD, and they don’t qualify for the cannabis program because they don’t have a severe enough chronic condition to warrant it,” Dr. Greg Randle, a physician with a clinic in Maryville, told the Tribune News Service. “But PTSD can be easily treated with cannabis. I can get them off some of those anti-anxiety drugs they’re on right now. It’s a good thing.”

Lawmakers have not had an easy road in their attempt to get PTSD added to the state’s list of qualified conditions. In fact, earlier this year the Rauner administration rejected a recommendation by the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to add PTSD and seven other ailments to the state’s list of qualified conditions.

Throughout the efforts to further develop the program, Governor Rauner has maintained that the current policy needs more time to be evaluated before he would dare support a move to go bigger. Senate Bill 10 appears to have been negotiated in the interest of progress without requiring the Rauner administration to take too bold a leap.

“Governor Rauner and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin deserve credit for their willingness and commitment to reform and extend Illinois’ medical marijuana program,” said Representative Lou Lang. “I want to thank them for their cooperation to find a bipartisan legislative compromise on improving a program designed to ease the pain and suffering of seriously ill individuals, including children.”

The medical marijuana upgrade would also give anyone with six months or less to live permission to use medical marijuana. In addition, it would force doctors to “certify” that a true doctor-patient relationship exists rather than simply offering a “recommendation” to use the program, and it would eliminate some of the red tape the state has required, in the past, for patients and caregivers to get their hands on medical marijuana cards.

Governor Rauner has 60 days to sign the legislation. If he fails to do so, the upgrade will automatically become law.

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