Illinois’s Medical Marijuana Program Fights Setbacks
While medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois in 2014, the process of instituting the change has been an uphill battle for many. For example, in January, the state missed a self-imposed …
|While medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois in 2014, the process of instituting the change has been an uphill battle for many. For example, in January, the state missed a self-imposed deadline to award dispensary licenses to businesses and growers, rendering the 600 patients who had been approved for medical marijuana cards unable to legally buy cannabis. Additionally, recent reports show that a number of top doctors are reluctant to begin prescribing the treatment, a fact which may be further slowing the program’s progress. However, despite these roadblocks, many patients in Illinois are still determined to access medical marijuana: recently, it was reported that residents had petitioned the state to add another 20 conditions to the program’s list, including anxiety, migraines, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.Under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the Associated Press was able to access 269 pages of petitions that had been submitted to Illinois’s medical marijuana program. While the state blacked out the petitioners’ names to protect their privacy, their emotional pleas revealed them to veterans of the Vietnam and Iraq, as well as sufferers of a variety of conditions currently unapproved for treatment.
“I am a Vietnam Vet and can only imagine how things would have been,” one petitioner with PTSD wrote. “While visiting in Colorado I had the benefit of trying cannabis in candy form…. and I felt wonderful. No thoughts of violence, self-deprecation, or hopelessness. My life would be different today.”
“Cannabis would cause my mind to stop obsessive thoughts and it could help me conquer my fears,” another petitioner wrote, describing their experiences with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. However, Illinois’s program reportedly has some of the strictest requirements. While the state allows medical marijuana usage for a number of conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS, this list is shorter than other states’; California, for example, allows doctors to issue a medical marijuana card for patients with migraines, arthritis and “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” The Illinois Department of Public Health must approve any new additions to the state list with the help of an advisory board consisting of patients, nurses, doctors and a pharmacist, which promises to be cautious and conservative in their judgement. Patients can submit petitions in January and July. The next public hearing for these petitions is scheduled for May 4.
The advisory board has previously stated that wants to prevent those in the marijuana industry from using the approval process for its own gain, as a broader list would create a bigger market in the state. However, most of the petitions seem to come from patients themselves, who have requested approval for bipolar disorder, autism, psoriasis, chronic back pain, gout and osteoarthritis. Some even admitted to using marijuana illegally to find relief or help their conditions.
However, it is unclear how approval would help, due to the current state of Illinois’s program. Even if businesses do receive dispensary licenses, patients still have to receive approval from a doctor with whom they have a ongoing professional relationship. However, many are reluctant: a private company called Good Intentions, which connects patients with doctors who are sympathetic to the cause and helps them apply for medical marijuana cards, as many as 900 of their 1,300 clients have had doctors refuse to make recommendations.
To make matters worse, the U.S. is experiencing an ongoing doctor shortage, with general practitioners and rural doctors in especially short supply. For this reason, many patients are turning to the 20,000 urgent care doctors who practice urgent care medicine for their various medical conditions; in a system that increasingly relies on this form of medical care, how can potential medical marijuana patients find a doctor at all, much less one that believes in this nontraditional treatment?
However, the petitioners and medical marijuana industry as a whole may have found a source of hope in the state’s medical advisory board: while cannabis studies in the U.S. are often hampered by federal constraints, the board chair, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, says the group will take these limitations into consideration when considering new appeals. “Where science is lacking we must factor in our compassion more heavily,” Temple, a suburban Chicago doctor, said.