State's Medical Marijuana Program Faces New Crop of Challenges

The seeds of Illinois’ medical marijuana industry are expected to bloom this fall as more pot dispensaries could get the final green light to open.

Only one pot dispensary is licensed to sell medical marijuana so far under the state’s trial program, but a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees the licensing of pot dispensaries, says more businesses could get the final thumbs-up soon.

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“Dispensaries will continue to be registered on a rolling basis,” said the spokesman, Terry Horstman, in an email. “We do anticipate additional registries within the coming weeks.” 

But some industry observers say there are a couple of major buzzkills facing the state’s program. Among those challenges is the small pool of 3,000 approved patients who can purchase medical marijuana, and state registered cultivation centers, or pot farms, aren’t expected to begin selling marijuana to dispensaries until later this year. 

Tonight we’ll talk with Ross Morreale, chairman of the trade group Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, and William Bogot, a partner at the law firm Fox Rothschild, which represents two dispensaries. 

The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly on May 17, 2013 and was signed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 1, 2013. While the four-year pilot program legally took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, numerous delays in licensing for growers and sellers beleaguered the program.

Rep. Lou Lang, a sponsor of the medical marijuana program, wanted to extend the program four years from when the first dispensary began operating. But Gov. Bruce Rauner, who inherited the program when he took office, amended a bill that would extend the pilot program only an additional four months, ending the program in April 2018.

A measure to expand the pilot program to cover an additional 11 illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and migraine headaches, was rejected by the Rauner administration earlier this month.

Over the course of a year, approximately 24,300 people have started the patient registry application process for the pilot program and of those approximately 3,700 have submitted complete applications. The Illinois Department of Public Health has approved 3,000 patients.

People with the following debilitating medical conditions are eligible for the program:

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Crohn's disease Hydrocephalus Neurofibromatosis Spinal cord disease, including, but not limited to, arachnoiditis, Tarlov cysts, hydromyelia, syringomyelia
Agitation of Alzheimer's disease CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type II) Interstitial Cystitis Parkinson's disease Spinal cord injury
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Dystonia Lupus Post-concussion syndrome Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA)
Arnold-Chiari malformation and Syringomelia Fibromyalgia (severe) Multiple Sclerosis RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type I) Tourette’s syndrome
Cachexia/wasting syndrome Fibrous dysplasia Muscular dystrophy Residual limb pain Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Cancer Glaucoma Myasthenia Gravis Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Causalgia Hepatitis C Myoclonus Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy 
Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Nail-patella syndrome Sjogren's syndrome

Application process

The first step is to fill out an application. To qualify for a patient registry card, an applicant must:

Completed applications must include all of the following:

  • A signed and completed application form
  • Proof of residency
  • Proof of identity and age of the qualifying patient
  • Photograph of the qualifying patient
  • Physician written certification or appropriate documentation for veterans receiving medical care at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility (this documentation must be mailed by a patient’s physician)
  • Copy of the fingerprint consent form and receipt provided by the livescan fingerprint vendor containing the Transaction Control Number
  • Selection of a medical cannabis dispensary or zone (a patient must select one city, county or counties from a set list where they expect to obtain their medical marijuana)
  • Application fee (an annual fee is $100, a reduced  fee of $50 is available for veterans and patients enrolled in the federal Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income disability programs.)

Finding out the status of an application

IDPH has 30 business days to review complete applications (incomplete applications will be denied) from the date the department receives them. After an application is approved, the department has up to 15 days to issue a registry identification card.

If an application is denied, a letter will be sent to the applicant explaining the denial.

Purchasing medical pot

Once approved, patients can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis during a 14-day period from the dispensary the qualifying patient identified on their application. 

In order for a patient to receive more than 2.5 ounces of medical pot during that time, a waiver must be submitted by the patient’s physician stating that amount is insufficient based on the patient’s medical history.

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