Illinois's Restrictive Marijuana Laws: Failing Patients

At the start of the Illinois’ five-year medical marijuana use pilot
project, I had great optimism for its success. Most experts were
predicting that as many as 70,000
patients
would be
signed up by the end of five years. Now at the halfway mark, the state
has only been able to sign up 4,000 qualified participants. Based on
what I’ve seen so far, it would be impossible for me to not attribute
these low sign-up numbers to the strict regulations set in place by the
state at the beginning of the pilot program.

Restrictive Laws to Blame

The lawmakers of Illinois have set down some of the most restrictive
medical cannabis
laws
in the
country. They added in specific restrictions like state ID, patient
background checks and participant fingerprint requirements, measures
that will certainly be both time-consuming and costly to the patient,
and may even prevent many patients from applying.

Doctors Targeted

The program also requires there to be an established physician-patient
relationship before a prescription can be written. I have read reports
that at least two doctors are in hot water over this issue, and many
other doctors are reluctant to prescribe cannabis to their patients. In
fact, some doctors are reporting that their employers have requested
that they not prescribe cannabis at all. I believe this puts an undue
burden on the patients, who now have to search for a doctor willing to
prescribe medical marijuana and spend months building a relationship
with them before they can apply.

Overly Restrictive Medical Conditions

While these extra precautions are certainly hindering the effectiveness
of the medical marijuana pilot program, I contend that the low number of
medical conditions that actually qualify for the program has been the
biggest roadblock. The latest report I read showed that the Illinois
Department of Public Health (IDPH) has only approved just 35 different
illnesses
. This
list includes ailments such as cancer,
AIDS,
Parkinson’s
disease,
lupus,
and rheumatoid arthritis.
Unfortunately, this list is also missing dozens of important medical
conditions that can be managed with medical cannabis, such as
depression,
bipolar,
diabetes,
and Crohn’s
disease.

Last year, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended the addition
of 11 other diseases to the IDPH’s list of qualified medical conditions.
Unfortunately, the IDPH announced that it would not be making any
changes to the list of qualified condition. This year, the board reduced
their request to just eight additional ailments, such as chronic
pain,
PTSS
(Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), autism and
osteoarthritis.

What We Already Know

A recent study by HelloMD
supports the notion of expanding the list of qualified medical
conditions. Out of the 17,000 patients surveyed, which may well be the
largest survey of its type among medical marijuana users, the most
common reason for using medical marijuana was for treating anxiety,
pain, stress, insomnia, depression, migraines and arthritis. These
results seem to fall in line with what the Medical Cannabis Advisory
Board is recommending. Even more impressive is the fact the 84 percent
of the study participants believe very strongly that the use of medical
cannabis has helped to control their symptoms. In addition, 96 percent
would recommend the use of medical marijuana to friends and family
members.

More than 22,000
people
signed a petition at Change.org in reference to medical cannabis, to be
sent to Governor Rauner, with many of the signers leaving heartfelt
messages behind. The hope is to entice the state to expand the list of
medical marijuana conditions before the program slides into total
disarray. Even celebrities like Jim
McMahon

and Melissa Etheridge have touted the benefits of medical marijuana.

Far Reaching Consequences

With the number of approved applicants falling well below the
anticipated figures, my biggest fear is that the 23 licensed
dispensaries will start to close up shop. HelloMD’s Medical Marijuana
Patient Survey
Results

showed that 61 percent of customers purchase their cannabis locally.
Without these local dispensaries, patients will find it difficult to
find the cannabis they need. These approved dispensary owners claim that
they need to see an increase of about 20,000 to
30,000

qualified patients in order to become profitable. I think this increase
is highly unlikely, given the state’s refusal to expand the list of
qualified medical conditions and the registration that the patients have
to go through.

Other states like New Jersey and Minnesota are also seeing dismal
approved patient numbers due to restrictive regulations. Unfortunately,
it is the patients who are dealing with chronic pain, anxiety, stress
and other medical conditions on a daily basis that are suffering the
most. Some are filling the gap by using prescribed opioids to manage
their symptoms, but these drugs can be addictive and dangerous, and come
with a long list of negative side effects.

The Path Forward

I think that Illinois should look at California’s medical marijuana use
laws. The state has been at the forefront of this issue, approving the
medical cannabis law in 1996 and being the first state to license a
marijuana dispensary. California now has a long list of medical
conditions that can be used to secure approval for medical marijuana
use. The state also issues more than 17 different types of cannabis
dispensary licenses to make both opening one and staying compliant with
regulations easier.

I believe that Illinois could capitalize on the success of California by
using it as a model for its medical marijuana law. Unfortunately, if
Illinois continues down this broken path, it won’t take long for the
entire program to crumble. Governor Bruce Rauner has hinted that he may
be interested in expanding the pilot program by two years. However, it
seems to me that without immediate changes the program may not last that
long, and it is the patients who will continue to suffer the most.

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