Illinois Public Health Dept. proposes plan for medicinal marijuana program

By Alex Swanson

Over the past few months, significant changes have been made to the proposed regulations for Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

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. Since then, other state departments have published their proposed regulations as well. 

The program itself likely will not be fully put into effect until sometime next year. 

Illinois held the first of two public forums for the state program on May 5. Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois branch of the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws, said the forums were meant to be outlets for potential patients to voice their concerns to the regulatory agency. 

“Unfortunately, there weren’t a whole lot of patients at the public hearing,” Linn said. “It was a lot more potential business owners voicing their concerns about the strict regulations of business aspects of the program.”

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There are still major patient concerns about the four-year pilot program. These include, among other concerns, background checks as well as the fee attached to applying for a medical marijuana card.

Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said in an interview in January that the proposed regulations — particularly the background checks — 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. 

Originally, the annual application fee for a medicinal marijuana card was $150, however the fee has now been reduced to $100, and $50 for veterans. 

Under the original proposed program rules, patients applying for medical marijuana cards would have to give up their firearms license. However, the ban on firearms in conjunction with medicinal marijuana cards has been dropped.

Additionally, the Illinois House of Representatives committee backed a bill on May 7 that would allow children with epilepsy or occasional seizures to apply for a medical marijuana card. 

Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the project pushed for several reforms to the marijuana program. Some of them, like the fee decrease and the drop of the gun ban, were implemented into the pilot program’s regulations. 

However, not all of the reforms the Marijuana Policy Project suggested were added to the program. Lindsey said the project also pushed for lesser fees associated with becoming a cultivation center, as well as the ability for dispensaries to deliver medicinal marijuana to their patients. Neither of these measures was put into the program.

Linn commented in a January interview that 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 health care 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.”

Lindsey also spoke about the benefits of medicinal marijuana for patients.

“Marijuana has been shown to relieve many different serious medical conditions. And Illinois has identified a good number of them,” Lindsey said. “So, we believe that the program will provide a lot of help to thousands of citizens all across the state.”

Eleanor Black contributed to this report.

Alex can be reached at [email protected].