Pubdate: Sat, 14 May 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company


Illinois has taken a go-slow approach to medical marijuana, limiting 
risk by allowing the industry to operate as a pilot program until the 
start of 2018. So far, so good: The highly regulated system, designed 
to provide relief to patients suffering from 39 specific ailments, 
such as cancer and Parkinson's, has operated smoothly since it 
started last year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, like his predecessor, Pat Quinn, hasn't rushed the 
process. But a policy of prudence that doesn't evolve with the 
evidence can wind up being overly cautious: Today some hurting 
Illinois residents can't get the aid they seek because of Rauner's approach.

A key to Illinois' strategy was to cap the initial list of illnesses 
approved for medicinal marijuana use and then allow an expert panel 
to recommend over time whether to expand it. Twice the state Medical 
Cannabis Advisory Board has heard from patients, studied the 
scientific literature and voted to add some conditions and illnesses 
to the list. And twice the governor, acting through the Department of 
Public Health, has rejected those recommendations, indicating he 
wants to assess the program for a longer period.

This month, the board tried again, reiterating support for 10 
conditions to add to the 39, including specific types of chronic 
pain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and post-traumatic stress 
disorder. Two illnesses were added: Type 1 diabetes and panic 
disorder. The governor has until summer to rule on the proposals. We 
hope he'll broaden his thinking on medical pot.

For eons people have known that marijuana has medicinal qualities. 
But scientifically assessing its ability to soothe is challenging 
because of the drug's nebulous legal standing. In terms of federal 
law, marijuana is illegal. That puts a damper on the research.

Nevertheless, there is broad scientific and political recognition 
that grass can be a godsend to the ill. California was first to allow 
medical use, passing a ballot initiative in 1996. Medical marijuana 
is now legal in 24 states, with Ohio positioned to become the 25th. 
In many states, dispensaries are just part of the landscape; they 
don't turn heads anymore.

Cultural acceptance is broad enough that Walgreens, which does not 
sell marijuana, recently posted some informative straight talk - 
though not an endorsement - on its blog. "Research on the health 
benefits of marijuana is ongoing, but current studies have proven 
that canabinoid receptors play an important role in many body 
processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, 
bone growth and immune function," wrote Dahlia Sultan, a resident 
pharmacist at Walgreens and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Sultan noted that research indicated marijuana may impair lungs, 
memory and judgment, but also can "provide pain relief in ways 
traditional pain medicines don't," as well as "improve appetites and 
relieve nausea in those who have cancer, and it may help relieve 
symptoms such as muscle stiffness in people who have multiple sclerosis."

What's more, medical marijuana is a safer alternative to powerful 
painkillers that can be highly addictive or even kill.

The advisory board is scrupulous in its vetting. Dr. Leslie Mendoza 
Temple, a Chicago-area physician who chairs the panel, said her group 
does a comprehensive review of each proposal and rejects conditions 
that don't meet their standards. "Anxiety," for example, was rejected 
because it's too broad a category. Lyme and MRSA were left out 
because the scientific research was "too vague to draw any conclusions."

The board is frustrated with the governor, for good reason. "We don't 
get everything that we want on this board anyway, several times 
over," Mendoza Temple said at the most recent meeting.

About 6,200 people in Illinois have been approved to use medical 
marijuana. That's well below early estimates. The state's 
dispensaries and growers - a new industry for this jobs-starved state 
- - are counting on a larger customer base. Expanding the list of uses 
would give Springfield a fuller track record to evaluate when 
lawmakers decide whether to extend the legalization of medical 
marijuana. But the most important reason to expand the list of 
ailments is to help suffering patients.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom