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Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 12:01 am

Medical marijuana law remains green

Illinoisans can expect several months before medical cannabis is dispensed

An employee refills a jar of medical marijuana at a dispensary.
Photo BY Anthony Souffle/mCT


Despite uncertainty surrounding Illinois’ new medical marijuana law, experts are sure of one thing: it’s going to be a while before the first prescription is filled.

The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1 with the passage of the state’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act in August. The law permits the establishment of dispensaries to produce and sell medical marijuana to registered patients with prescriptions, but contains a number of stipulations that separate Illinois’ regulations from the 19 other states that have passed medical marijuana legislation.

The law includes a list of the 33 diseases a patient must be diagnosed with before he or she can receive a prescription, which makes the law more stringent than in some states. Gillespie-based lawyer Bradley Vallerius, who recently penned Illinois Medical Marijuana Law: A Practical Guide for Everyone, said the list is aimed in part at preventing just anybody from being able to receive a prescription.

“Illinois’ approach is much more cautious,” he said. “It wants to give cannabis as medicine only to people who suffer from conditions that medical science clearly shows cannabis can benefit.”

But Illinoisans shouldn’t expect access to the newly legal drug anytime soon. Three state agencies – The Department of Financial and Professional Regulations, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Agriculture – all have until the beginning of May to propose rules for the cultivation, prescription and dispensary of cannabis.

Vallerius said restrictions may emerge which aim to keep the sale of cannabis in a pharmaceutical setting, such as through a limit on the dispensaries’ sale of branded merchandise like hats or T-shirts that portray cannabis.

“We’re getting away from dreadlocks and bongs and the whole marijuana culture,” he said. “What you need to associate Illinois’ law with is white lab coats … sterile environments.”

In the meantime, though, those wanting to get into the new industry can only prepare based on what basic guidelines are set forth in the law. There’s set to be no more than 22 cultivation centers across 20 Illinois State Police districts, with no more than two centers per each district.

The law provides there may be no more than 60 dispensaries and they must be dispersed across Illinois. Additionally, there are regulations about where the centers can be opened. For example, cultivation centers must be at least 2,500 feet away from schools, child care facilities or residential zones. All employees and governing board members of the centers must undergo background checks and cannot have been convicted of certain crimes.

Likewise, patients and caregivers will receive background checks and must not have been convicted of any drug-related felonies before obtaining a registration card through the Department of Public Health.

Dan Linn, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws chapter in Illinois, which recently formed its first Springfield-based chapter, said he doesn’t think anyone will have access to medicinal cannabis this year because of the time required to develop rules, accept cultivation and dispensary license applications and grant licenses, and to produce the plant.

“A lot of people who are sick and really need this medicine as soon as possible are extremely upset that it’s almost 18 months away still,” he said.

Consumers aren’t alone in the wait; physicians also play an important role. Dr. Stefan Kozak, a family practitioner at the Springfield Clinic, was one of three Springfield-based physicians who officially gave their support of the legislation last spring.

So far, though, Kozak said he hasn’t received any official information about the new law.

Kozak, who is not a user himself, said he does not plan to take on any new patients once it can be prescribed, but said he does think it will benefit some of those he already treats who are in chronic pain.

Although some specifics are still to come, Vallerius said consumers should be aware of three things: it’s going to take time before patients are registered, smoking cannabis in public places will still remain illegal, and the treatment options won’t be limited to smoking. Cultivation centers will be permitted to create cannabis-infused medicine and baked goods.

“Patients will have a lot of options,” he said.

Lauren P. Duncan can be reached at intern@illinoistimes.com.

Marijuana Prescription Eligible Conditions
• Cancer
• Glaucoma
• Hepatitis C
• Crohn's disease
• Agitation of Alzheimer's
• cachexia/wasting syndrome
• muscular dystrophy
• severe fibromyalgia
• spinal cord disease, including arachnoiditis
• Tarlov cysts
• hydromyelia and syringomyelia
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• fibrous dysplasia
• spinal cord injury
• traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome
• multiple sclerosis
• Arnold Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia
• Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA)
• Parkinson’s disease
• Tourette’s syndrome
• Myoclonus
• Dystonia
• "Reflex
• Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), Causalgia and CRPS"
• Neurofibromatosis
• Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy
• Sjogren’s syndrome
• Lupus
• Interstitial Cystitis
• Myasthenia Gravis
• Hydrocephalus
• "nail patella syndrome"

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