Pubdate: Sun, 17 Aug 2014
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2014 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Robert McCoppin


Julie Falco was active in lobbying Illinois to legalize medical 
marijuana, a drug she credits with "saving my life" since she started 
eating pot brownies to treat to multiple sclerosis 10 years ago.

Yet now that the state has enacted a medicinal cannabis law and just 
this month began distributing applications for would-be patients, the 
Chicago woman is still deciding whether to go through that process or 
simply continue to use the drug outside of the new legal channel.

She's particularly concerned about having to submit her fingerprints 
to the state - Illinois is the only state that requires that of 
medical marijuana applicants - along with documentation of her Social 
Security disability insurance, proof of age and residency and a recent photo.

She's never had to submit such information for the narcotics 
prescribed to her in the past, she noted.

"Boy, this is a lot of hoop-jumping to go through," said Falco, 49.

Almost nine months after Illinois' medical marijuana law took effect, 
the state is set to begin accepting applications in September for 
prospective patients. Yet while officials have touted the Illinois 
law as being the strictest around, others criticize the application 
process as being onerous and intrusive.

Individual physicians, meanwhile, are also trying to determine their 
own comfort level with recommending a drug that federal law still 
prohibits and puts in the same class as heroin.

With applications now available online, advocates say those who want 
to use medical marijuana should make appointments to get examined by 
a physician to be certified as having one of the 38 medical 
conditions that qualify - or they should find a new doctor.

Illinois law requires patients to get a recommendation from a doctor 
with whom they have a "bona fide physician-patient relationship." 
That means, state officials say, that even if the patient is new to a 
doctor, that physician must be assessing or treating the patient's disease.

Patients and doctors "do not need a prior relationship, as long as 
the doctor reviews the patient's records," said Bob Morgan, 
coordinator of the state's medical marijuana program. "It's intended 
so the physician has personal knowledge of the patient's condition."

At least 100,000 people in Illinois have one of the qualifying 
conditions to get medical pot, officials estimate, and they expect 
thousands or tens of thousands of people to apply for medical 
marijuana identification cards in the first year. Once qualified, 
patients may buy pot from one of up to 60 dispensaries allowed 
statewide, which will be supplied by up to 21 cultivation centers.

Though grow centers and stores aren't expected to open until early 
next year, the state will be taking patient applications from Sept. 2 
through the end of the year. The law requires that the state respond 
within 30 days of receiving a completed application.

If the Illinois Department of Public Health denies the application, 
it will notify the applicant as to why, Morgan said. Applicants may 
appeal the ruling to an administrative law judge.

In addition to providing extensive documentation of their doctors' 
recommendation, the main hurdle applicants must clear is a criminal 
background check. Anyone with a felony conviction for a violent 
crime, drug dealing or drug possession may be denied. Exceptions may 
be made on a case-by-case basis if the applicant can prove the drug 
possession was related to a qualifying medical condition.

Caregiver applications are also available. Caregivers must be at 
least 21 years old and must also submit fingerprints for criminal 
background checks.

Fingerprints must be submitted electronically through private vendors 
that participate in the state-certified Live Scan system, already in 
use to check concealed gun permit applicants and certain 
state-licensed workers. Live Scan sends the prints to the Illinois 
State Police, which runs them through the Automated Fingerprint 
Identification System and forwards them to the FBI for a nationwide 
background check.

Such requirements are among many that might make the application 
procedure challenging, and might make some patients and doctors avoid 
the issue altogether, advocates say.

No other states require criminal background checks to get medical 
marijuana, advocates said, but sponsors of the new law said they had 
to include such precautions to get enough votes to pass the bill.

The process is new to doctors as well as patients, said Dr. William 
McDade, president of the Illinois State Medical Society.

Some doctors will want to avoid the paperwork or the risk they might 
perceive from recommending a drug that they are prohibited from 
prescribing under federal law, he said.

A significant burden for doctors will be that, before recommending a 
patient for medical pot, they must review all medical records for the 
patient spanning the prior year, McDade said. That could be difficult 
if a patient sees multiple doctors, which wouldn't be unusual for 
someone with a serious condition such as HIV, lupus, Crohn's disease 
or muscular dystrophy.

Some of the qualifying medical conditions, like fibromyalgia and 
spinal cord injury, are general enough that they may be prone to 
abuse by patients seeking marijuana to get high rather than for 
treatment, McDade said.

Doctors should also warn patients that driving a motor vehicle, even 
hours after consuming marijuana, may be dangerous. And while patients 
may come in seeking the drug based on what they've seen in the media 
or online, he said, they may not be aware of the risks, such as lung 
damage from smoking.

To educate doctors on the issue, McDade's group will hold webinars on 
the subject in upcoming weeks.

"It's a fine thing for those patients it benefits," McDade said. "But 
we have to be very cautious about ... letting them know all the 
downsides. Every medicine has its own side effects."

Patient applications for medical marijuana are available at

Patients with last names beginning with A through L may submit their 
applications from Sept. 2 through Oct. 31. Remaining patients may 
apply from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom