Medical marijuana regulatory proposals met with contention

By Eleanor Black

In one of the first steps of Illinois’ four-year medical marijuana pilot project, a draft of proposed rules was posted online and has caused contention from medical marijuana supporters.

On Jan. 21, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted a 48-page draft of the proposed regulations to show the public how the system may be implemented. 

Already, some of the proposed rules have been met with complaints. The major concerns include the annual application fee of $150, the timeline of the program’s implementation and the potential decision that will have to be made by qualifying patients with firearms.

Though medical marijuana is now legal in Illinois, the program itself likely will not be fully implemented until next year. Applications for medical marijuana patients will not be accepted until September. 

Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, said the first year of the pilot program will focus on the rule-making and regulation process.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes that long because this is dealing with people’s healthcare and their livelihood, and in all honesty, their survival in some cases,” he said. “Putting the patient applications at the end of the year, I think that gives a little bit more of an honest answer to the patients as to the timeline of this program.”

Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, believes that the proposed regulations — particularly the background check — treat potential medical marijuana patients unfairly.

“Those things are just barriers, and they basically treat the patient as if the patient may be a criminal,” she said. “The fact of the matter is, there are other drugs currently prescribed now that are far more highly controlled that don’t impose those kind of requirements on patients.”

Under the proposed regulations, patients must go through a fingerprint-based background check in order to apply for a medical marijuana registry identification card. They must pay for this out of their own pocket, and anyone who has been convicted of a drug felony will not be eligible to receive an ID card.

Linn said the strict regulations that Illinois has already implemented or proposed were necessary to get the bill passed in the first place.

“It was one of those situations where we needed this program to be as restrictive as it is so we could pass this law,” he said. “It’s just now that we have this law, it’s not going to help as many people as it really could have, or help as many people as soon as it could have due to its restrictive nature.”

Both Linn and Lennhoff said discussion surrounding the rule that would prevent medical marijuana patients from owning firearms has been particularly contentious.

Aleksander Dapkus, senior in LAS, president of Illini on Target, a recreational shooting registered student organization, said the regulation may have come about due to stigmas attached to marijuana.

“I just don’t see why the two (gun control and medical marijuana) should be related,” he said. “They seem to be different issues, and I don’t think one has an effect on the other in the real world.”

He added that implementing the rule would deny patients treated by medical marijuana their right to defend themselves.

“Why do they have less of a right to defend themselves than anyone else? That’s sort of what this law does,” Dapkus said. “They’re trying to get better health-wise, but in doing that, they must put themselves at a higher risk.”

Linn also mentioned some aspects of the draft that were positive, such as the medical cannabis advisory board made up of eight doctors and one patient or patient advocate — though he thinks there should be more of a balance — and the time at which the draft itself was released. He said there had been talk that the proposed rules would not be released until late February or early March.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has opened up the floor for the public to make any comments or suggestions to the proposal, which may help address any issues and concerns.

Though Linn believes IDPH will change very little from what is being proposed, he said there is still a chance for change if enough people take issue with a specific rule.

“I think it gives an appearance of transparency, and it gives a mechanism for feedback from the community and from the state,” said Linn. “You’re going to need a lot of people commenting that something bothers them and they don’t think that should be in there.”

Overall, Lennhoff believes that potential patients for the medical marijuana program are being treated in a discriminatory manner.

“If a physician makes a decision working with a patient that this is the best treatment for that person, then why should there be all these things that prevent the physician from being able to treat the patient the best way possible?” Lennhoff said.

Eleanor can be reached [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled Claudia Lennhoff’s name as Claudia Lenhoff. The Daily Illini regrets the error.