Pubdate: Sat, 02 Jul 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press


(AP) - Illinois' experiment with medical marijuana has earned a boost 
thanks to Gov. Bruce Rauner's approval of legislation extending the 
state pilot program for 2 1/2 years and including two more medical conditions.

On Friday, medical marijuana advocates and experts called it a 
turning point that gives patients guaranteed access to the drug and 
provides confidence to those selling and cultivating it in the state. 
Rauner signed the measure Thursday night.

"It's a very good thing for us," said Charles Bachtell, founder and 
CEO of Cresco Labs, which holds cultivation permits in Illinois. 
"It's somewhat of an endorsement of the state saying, 'You're doing 
the right thing. We like what we're seeing from the pilot program and 
let's make some reasonable modifications.'"

The measure extends the pilot program until July 2020 and includes 
those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal 
illnesses, defined as those who have less than six months to live, to 
participate in the program.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials said Friday that the 
agency must draft emergency rules, develop forms and adjust online 
registration and registry cards before those with PTSD and terminal 
illnesses can apply for the medical marijuana program. The health 
department will post information on its website when applications can 
be accepted, spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.

The new law also streamlines how doctors approve patients and gives 
the governor the ability to reappoint members of the Illinois Medical 
Cannabis Advisory Board.

State Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who has sponsored medical 
marijuana proposals, said the extension and technical changes are 
crucial to gauging the program's success.

Lawmakers legalized a four-year pilot in 2013, but the first sales 
weren't until November 2015. Without Rauner signing the legislation, 
the program would have expired at the end of 2017. Lang said the 
remaining time "simply wasn't long enough."

Most significantly, the new law provides patients with reassurances 
that the drug will be available, said Bob Morgan, who was the 
Illinois program's first director and now is president of the 
Illinois Cannabis Bar Association.

"They won't have to revert to purchasing cannabis illegally or 
consider moving to another state that has a medical cannabis 
program," Morgan said.

The new law also gives Illinois medical marijuana businesses more 
time to grow, he said.

"That's got to be a relief to them, that they can just continue to 
operate a successful business and work toward servicing the 
community," Morgan said.

Illinois' medical marijuana pilot program got its start under former 
Gov. Pat Quinn and continued under Rauner, who for more than a year 
resisted expanding the program beyond the original 39 conditions and 
diseases listed in the law.

The industry's future in Illinois also depends on a handful of 
lawsuits challenging the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board's 
denial of marijuana use for certain conditions. Lawsuits are pending 
that challenge the state's decision to not include osteoarthritis, 
autism, chronic post-operative pain, migraines, irritable bowel 
syndrome, polycystic kidney disease and intractable pain.

Illinois law allows people to petition the state to add health 
conditions to the eligible list, but Rauner's administration had 
rejected all new conditions despite the advice of an expert panel 
that reviewed available medical evidence.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom