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Illinois Prepares For Medical Marijuana

As Illinois prepares for the January 1 rollout of legalized medical marijuana for some chronically and terminally ill patients, the Illinois Department of Public Health has been educating medical professionals on the benefits and limitations of the new pilot law. Connie Mueller Moody, assistant deputy director with the department, spoke about how the compassionate use of marijuana could supplement palliative medicine during a conference presented by the Illinois Hospital Association this month.

In August, Illinois became the twentieth state to authorize a program for the cultivation and dispensing of cannabis for medical purposes– the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. On New Year’s Day, the four-year pilot program will begin. However, it may take several months before patients can actually receive the drug through the state-licensed dispensaries.

Flowering Cannabis Plant, Courtesy WikiMedia Commons
Flowering Cannabis Plant, Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Moody was careful to point out that the law does not allow for recreational use, and patients and caregivers will not be able to grow their own supply- unlike other states with similar laws. No one under age 18 will be allowed to apply for the “medical cannabis registration card.” A registration program for qualifying patients must soon be established by the Department of Public Health. The Department of Agriculture will oversee regulation and licensure of up to 22 cannabis cultivation centers across the state; the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will oversee licensure of some 60 medical cannabis dispensaries.

According to Moody, the various agencies are still developing draft rules, and they must be submitted within 120 days of Jan. 1. “We want to do this right, our agency is very interested in insuring that this really does benefit patients,” she said.

Registered qualifying patients will be limited to purchasing 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every two weeks. There are only 40 debilitating medical conditions in which an individual may be allowed medical marijuana; those include cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and Rheumatoid arthritis. Anxiety and depression are not listed as qualifying conditions.

Dr. Jeanne Lewandowski, director of palliative medicine at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Michigan, spoke about her experiences treating patients utilizing medical marijuana during the conference. “The vast majority of people in the State of Michigan that utilize medical marijuana smoke it, like in a joint or in a bong,” she said. “There is a group of people that will nebulize it with very specific devices, and there is a much smaller group of people that use edible marijuana. I think it’s very interesting that Illinois is looking into edibles as the primary source for medical marijuana, because that is not the case in Michigan.” The Illinois Department of Public Health is set to develop regulations for medical edibles.

Morgan Fox, communications manager for Marijuana Policy Project, the largest organization advocating marijuana policy reform, said the Illinois law is a positive step forward for both patients and doctors. “Any law that is going to prevent patients from getting arrested for just trying to treat their illness is definitely a good law,” Fox said. “It would be great if we could get some of the qualifying conditions expanded once the program is up and running.”