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Imminent Decision Due on Fate of MMJ in Illinois

Chicago Cannabis Now Magazine
Photo by Aurimas


Imminent Decision Due on Fate of MMJ in Illinois

If the last half-century has shown us anything in Illinois, it’s that its governors, regardless of party, about half the time later wind up in federal prison. So it’s a suspect group from jump street.

Two years into Republican Bruce Rauner’s first term, the venture capital chairman-turned-Illinois Governor faces a key January 31 decision on whether to accept the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommendation to add eight new qualifying conditions to the Illinois medical marijuana program, including PTSD and several chronic pain conditions.

Although the Illinois legislature in 2013 made America’s fifth-most populous state then the 20th in the nation to legalize medical cannabis, rollout has gone slowly. The law bans home cultivation and as of December, only 4,000 patients had qualified under the program. Without more patients, stakeholders worry that not only will needy patients not receive proper treatment, but also the dispensaries newly licensed to operate are at risk of closure.

“There are not enough patients and approved conditions to sustain the industry,” said Ross Morreale, chairman of the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois.

Last October during its biannual hearings, the MCAB recommended that PTSD, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple chronic pain conditions, and osteoarthritis be added to the state’s roster of accepted conditions.

Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, the Board’s chairwoman, noted the recommendations were based on scientific research and patient feedback. Anxiety didn’t make the cut, she said, because it was too broad. However, she observed, allowing patients to replace addictive opioid painkillers with cannabis as an alternative would be wise for Illinois patients.

Based on his track record so far, advocates are skeptical the conservative Rauner will take action, despite a recent Harper Polling finding that roughly 70 percent of Illinois voters want the medical program expanded, and 80 percent support medical marijuana in Illinois in general.

In truth, Rauner looks a lot like fellow blue state governor Chris Christie, New Jersey’s staunchly conservative cannabis prohibitionist. Rauner has already vetoed an extension measure for the four-year medical marijuana pilot program, now halfway completed. He also rejected the MCAB’s previous recommendation of adding 11 conditions, a decision currently being challenged in court for lack of proper basis by five of the petitioners whose qualifying conditions Rauner turned down for the list last year.

As Rauner’s deadline fast approaches, Morreale’s group has organized a petition encouraging the governor to accept the MCAB’s recommendation. In addition, 25,000 signatures were delivered to the Governor’s office Wednesday. News cameras caught the Governor’s refusal to allow the group to deliver them directly even though the deliverers had a scheduled appointment.

“We’re pleading with the Governor to hear our voices,” said Caprice Sweatt, representing Illinois veterans. “Please approve the eight conditions that are so desperately needed for sick people in Illinois.”

In addition, the Chicago Tribune, which endorsed Rauner’s political bid, published an editorial Wednesday urging Rauner to accept the MCAB’s recommendation.

Another welcome boost in persuasion efforts came Thursday when former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who shuffled the Bears to their only Super Bowl championship 30 years ago, went public with his personal experience using medical cannabis. McMahon, who experienced multiple concussions and a broken neck during his playing career, has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and is one of multiple plaintiffs suing the NFL in a class action over the league’s handling of concussions.

McMahon said cannabis was a “godsend,” helping with his pain and with weaning off of damaging, prescribed painkillers like Percocet, of which his consumption had grown to 100 pills a month.

Calling McMahon “a Chicago icon,” Morreale told Cannabis Now McMahon’s public example “legitimizes the chronic pain condition” in a concrete way. He pointed out another inconsistency the current MCAB recommendation seeks to fix: rheumatoid arthritis is an accepted condition because it’s genetic, but osteoarthritis is not since it’s a product of wear and tear.

“But, it’s the same pain,” explained Morreale.

Moreover, he said, tens of thousands of new jobs would be created in Illinois with the expansion of the program.

It all boils down to Rauner. The decision is in his hands.

“The governor is getting in the way of the doctor-patient relationship,” Morreale said. “He’s the only person stopping these patients from becoming patients.”

Will Rauner block recommended expansion of the approved conditions list? What do you think?

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