Compassionate Use becoming more Compassionate– Illinois Medical Marijuana Updates

Posted on: July 31st, 2017 by Harter Schottland

As criminal defense attorneys, we often see individuals that are arrested for cannabis related charges.  Sometimes, it is clear that these individuals have been consuming cannabis for medicinal purposes.  Unfortunately, without a patient registry card provided under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (the “Act”), the medicinal use of marijuana remains illegal in the state of Illinois.  However, the good news is that since its inception in 2013, Illinois’ medical marijuana program has slowly expanded. People that previously dismissed the program because of the limited list of debilitating conditions or the perceived difficulty in obtaining doctor certification, may now find relief through the Act.  First, the “pilot” program which was originally slated to expire in 2017, has been extended to 2020 and cards issued are now good for three years allowing those already in the program to breathe a sigh of relief.

Second, two conditions have been added to the list of debilitating conditions:  PTSD and terminal illness. Terminal illness is defined as a condition with a life expectancy of 6 months or less. Interestingly, if you make it past the 6 month mark and do not die, you may then apply for a three year registry card. The original act has also been amended to allow eligibility for children under the age of 18.  For minors, however, only cannabis-infused products are allowed.

Changes in the law have also addressed issues related to doctors.  For example, some doctors refused to sign documents attesting that marijuana would help a person’s condition and doctors treating through the Veteran’s Administration were, in fact, prohibited from signing off on these documents.  However, recent changes to the forms avoid having the treating physician recommend marijuana, but just require the doctor to certify the patient’s diagnosis, which must be a debilitating condition. The program has even answered the issues associated with the difficulty in getting these forms filled out through the VA. Instead, Veterans can submit one year of medical records from the VA facility where they receive services.

Because of these slow but steady expansions, people that might not have qualified under the original list of debilitating conditions or that were having issues related to legal or moral positions of their treating physicians may now have a chance to apply for a card. The program itself continues to grow.  The department of public health shows that as of January 2016 more than 4000 people in Illinois are registered card holders.  The current numbers are certainly much higher, though the Department of public health has not reported them. A Chicago Tribune article from February of 2017 cited the number of card holders as 17,000. There are also several lawsuits pending in court seeking to add conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and osteoarthritis to the list of debilitating conditions. A Chicago Tribune article from September of 2016 reported that IBS, migraines and chronic post-operative pain have been successful in court, though those decisions are being challenged.   In May of 2017, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision regarding qualification of chronic post-operative pain as a debilitating condition.  The appellate court remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings regarding when the condition would be added to the list.

As developments arise, the attorneys at Harter & Schottland will continue to report them and advise their clients when the applying to the program might be appropriate.  While there will continue to be separate issues related to how an employer might treat medical marijuana having the card may help avoid criminal prosecutions.

If you have questions regarding the Act, a cannabis offense, or applying for a registry card, do not hesitate to call Harter & Schottland: 847-546-0022.

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