Questions surround marijuana law as Illinois goes 'green'

Supporters call it beneficial, critics call it controversial. Either way, medical marijuana is now legal in Illinois, but what effect will it have?

Patients, doctors, and lawmakers have been asking questions about HB0001, the medical cannabis bill Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed on August 1, 2013. However, just over a month into the law's existence, there are more questions than answers.

Will medical marijuana help me?

The law lists more than 40 medical conditions that would qualify a patient for a prescription. KHQA spoke with Dr. Scott Boston, Director of Emergency Medicine at Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville to learn more about those conditions.

"The law is extremely spelled out on what conditions can qualify a patient for receiving medical marijuana. Essentially, the literature suggests that medical marijuana has been efficient for neuropathic pain, pain from neurologic conditions," he said.

For example, the list of conditions includes both well-known illnesses, like cancer and glaucoma, and less-publicized ones, like lupus and Tourette's Syndrome.

Patients will need a doctor's recommendation before they can apply for a prescription card; that's how it originally worked in Colorado, where prescription pot was legalized in 2000.

Arthur R. (last name withheld) is a 26-year-old Colorado resident who carried a prescription card for about a year, before recreational marijuana became legal in the state this year. He says the process of obtaining a card was organized and efficient.

"Getting a prescription and doing things by the book has just made it easier, and it's improved my health in many ways. I had depression for a little while and it helped me with my depression, and overall it's been a positive experience and it's helped our community as well as far as bringing in tax dollars," Arthur said.

Getting organized.

But in Illinois, getting a card won't happen overnight. The Illinois Department of Public Health is working out the patient application process. Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is coordinating the marijuana dispensaries. At the same time, the state's Department of Agriculture still needs to establish its cultivation centers where the drug will be grown.

After all of that, a joint committee of the Illinois House and Senate must review and finalize the regulations established by those organizations.

State Representative Jil Tracy (R - 94th District) asked one state official when the whole process will be complete. She believes it will be at least April before the committee reviews the regulations, and early fall, at best, before the application process begins.

When it comes to rules of the new law, the Department of Public Health has posted a proposed set of regulations on its website open to public feedback. You can view those rules



To view the state's homepage for information on the medical marijuana law, click here.

The proposed rules currently include stipulations that would strictly enforce the use of medical cannabis. In fact, Governor Quinn released a statement in August that claimed the state's version of the law contained some of the strictest regulations in the country.

For example, one proposed rule states that anyone with a prescription card would not be allowed to also hold a FOID card.

Where will the marijuana come from?

Illinois residents may also wonder where the marijuana will be grown. The law calls for one licensed cultivation center per state police district. KHQA asked Rep. Tracy where District 20's center might be located, but that answer is unknown at this point in time.

Also - what form of the drug will patients be administered, and are children with qualifying conditions off-limits to a prescription? Again, those answers are yet to come.

It's important to note that the law was designed as a four-year pilot program. That means there will be trailer bills passed in the future that amend the current language of the law before it's re-assessed in 2018.

The risk.

It may seem like Illinois is simply keeping up with the times - almost half of the U.S. allows medical cannabis - but widespread legalization doesn't mean this law is flawless.

"I think there's the potential that patients will develop dependency. I would just like patients to know that this is still a mind-altering drug and you need to be very careful when you're using it," Dr. Boston said.

"Patients aside, there is a real risk that it will be abused and then it becomes harder for law enforcement," Rep. Tracy added.

Whether you support or oppose the law, the history of medical marijuana in other states may serve as an indicator for it's future in Illinois. There is the risk for abuse, but might legalization have the opposite effect?

"I've always worked very hard, stayed responsible, and I've essentially been 'medicating' the whole time and been a functioning adult that is handling business. I really don't see any downfall in the use of it as long as you're being responsible," Arthur said.

Four years from now, all of this law's question marks will fade, but for now, is this a good move for Illinois? Both Dr. Boston and Representative Tracy agreed - time is what the bill needs most.

"Whether it's a good thing for Illinois or not remains to be seen," Rep. Tracy said.

"I think that's still open to debate," Dr. Boston said.

It may never have 100 percent approval, but this law doesn't need it. Despite the unknowns and cloudy future of the bill, it appears medical marijuana is here to stay in the state of Illinois.