Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jan 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Robert McCoppin


Petition Asks for More Illnesses on Approved List

Medical marijuana advocates are mounting a petition drive and social 
media campaign to convince Gov. Bruce Rauner to greatly expand the 
program in Illinois - but the governor hasn't yet given any 
indication he would do so.

The campaign is driven in part by industry officials who fear their 
businesses won't survive without more than the current 4,000 patients 
statewide. Joining them are patients with a variety of medical 
conditions, including chronic pain and common arthritis, who say they 
need medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms without the side 
effects of prescription drugs.

The petition has 16,000 signatures, and on Tuesday the Cannabis 
Patient Advocacy Coalition will post online videos featuring patients 
and medical officials urging approval. Rauner has until Feb. 1, 
advocates say, to render a decision on eight qualifying medical 
conditions recommended by the state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board.

Monday was a state holiday, and a spokesman for the governor said he 
could not immediately respond. Previously, Rauner vetoed bills to 
expand the pilot program and to decriminalize marijuana in general, 
instead calling for more conservative steps.

At issue is whether to include broad designations like intractable 
pain, meaning pain that doesn't respond to conventional treatment. 
The majority of medical marijuana patients in some other states like 
California qualify to get the drug based on a diagnosis of chronic 
pain, but Illinois officials have not allowed it, leery of problems 
that have arisen elsewhere, such as questionable diagnoses.

The first video by the Cannabis Patient Advocacy Coalition features a 
man identified as a Marine veteran, Jonathan Byrne, who testified at 
last fall's advisory board hearing in favor of adding PTSD.

In the video, he said he did two tours of combat duty in Iraq, and 
returned with problems from traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic 
stress disorder. Over six years, he said, he tried a 33-page list of 
prescription drugs, a trial-and-error experience he described as a 
"spray and pray" approach. Now he's hoping the state will approve 
medical marijuana for other vets with PTSD, whom are among the 
estimated 22 per day veterans who kill themselves.

"It's the only thing that works and treats my symptoms," he said, 
"... without all the pharmaceuticals."

While medical marijuana has been approved in 23 states, it still 
faces significant opposition. It remains illegal under federal law, 
classified with heroin as the most dangerous level of drug. The 
American Psychiatric Association states that there is no scientific 
evidence that marijuana benefits any psychiatric disorder, and the 
American Medical Association does not advocate the use of marijuana 
as medicine.

Liana Bran, director of the Substance-Free Workplace Program for the 
Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke out against adding new 
conditions before the advisory board, calling it premature.

"The State of Illinois has simply not had the time to track the 
impact this program will have on its citizens, let alone any of the 
other states that have similar initiated marijuana legalization 
programs," she said. "This issue is all the more important, as many 
of the new conditions being proposed will open the program to large 
sections of the population, and some, such as PTSD and autism, to 
especially vulnerable populations."

Members of the Illinois advisory panel, which includes leading 
doctors at major medical institutions, such as chairwoman Dr. Leslie 
Mendoza Temple, director of integrative medicine at the University of 
Chicago, have said all drugs come with side effects, and more 
research is needed, but marijuana's potential benefits significantly 
outweigh the risks.

Michael Fine, the cochair of the advisory panel and the only member 
appointed by Rauner, said he gets marijuana through the program to 
treat pain from having his left arm ripped off in an automobile 
accident six years ago.

"It's been life-changing," he said of taking marijuana, which allows 
him to reduce his intake of prescription narcotics. "It allows me to 
be functional during the day, instead of a zoned-out vessel on the 
couch. I feel like I'm me."

Under the state's medical marijuana law, patients with one of about 
40 specified medical conditions may get a doctor's recommendation to 
buy marijuana from state-approved dispensaries. Approved conditions 
include cancer, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis and complex regional pain syndrome.

In September, the Illinois Department of Public Health rejected 
without explanation 11 new medical conditions recommended by the 
advisory board, which is made up of doctors, nurses, patients and advocates.

The following month, the advisory board made a new recommendation to 
approve eight conditions: autism, chronic pain due to trauma, chronic 
pain syndrome, chronic post-operative pain, irritable bowel syndrome, 
intractable pain, osteoarthritis and posttraumatic stress disorder.

At the time he made his initial rejection, Rauner argued that it was 
premature to expand the program before patients had started getting 
the drug. Since then, state officials said, the program has rolled 
out smoothly. Since the program started selling marijuana in 
November, wholesale sales have surpassed $1.5 million, generating 
more than $100,000 in taxes.

Many patients report benefiting from the drug, while there have been 
no major reported diversions or thefts, said Kim Morreale, 
spokeswoman for the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, which 
represents growers and sellers.

"The program is working well from a regulatory and public safety 
standpoint," she said. "Clearly, we need more patients."

Due to various delays, the four-year pilot program was almost half 
over by the time the product became available to the public in 
November, and is due to expire in 2018, when lawmakers have said they 
will consider whether to continue it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom