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New law broadens access to medical marijuana, makes state program permanent

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, August 13, 2019  |  Article  |  Jamie Munks

Marijuana, Medical, Recreational

Access to medical marijuana has been expanded and the state’s medical cannabis program is now permanent under a bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.


The program had been operating since 2014 as a pilot operation and was set to expire in 2020. The 11 additional conditions that now qualify for medical cannabis use include chronic pain, anorexia nervosa and autism.

The measure stabilizes the program and sends the message to patients that they will remain a priority as the state legalizes recreational marijuana for adults next year, Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat who sponsored the bill, said Monday at a news conference in Springfield.


“We will not turn our backs on the patient population even as legalization dominates the news in 2020,” Morgan said.


Starting in 2020, certified medical users will be able to grow up to five plants at home. Recreational cannabis users cannot legally grow pot at home under the law.


The addition of the 11 qualifying conditions means all of the conditions recommended for inclusion by the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board are now eligible for the medical cannabis program, Morgan said.


Irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, osteoarthritis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Neuro-Behcet’s autoimmune disease, neuropathy, polycystic kidney disease and superior canal dehiscence syndrome are among the qualifying conditions added by the new medical cannabis law, which took effect when Pritzker signed it Friday.


Both chambers of the General Assembly cast bipartisan votes earlier this year to make permanent and expand the medical cannabis program. The measure also expands certifying medical professionals to include registered nurses and physician’s assistants.


More than 80,000 people have participated Illinois’ medical cannabis program since it began in 2014.


The recreational marijuana law that takes effect Jan. 1 calls for dispensaries that have medical cannabis licenses issued under the medical pilot program to maintain “an adequate supply of cannabis and cannabis-infused products for purchase by qualifying patients and caregivers.”


Under Illinois’ medical cannabis pilot program, qualifying patients pay a $100 fee for a one-year registry card, $200 for a two-year card or $250 for three years. The fees can be reduced for those on disability and veterans.


Pritzker signed a separate measure Monday that allows students who are in the medical program to use their medical cannabis under the supervision of a school administrator or nurse while on school property. Previously, students could only receive medication from a parent or guardian on school grounds.


 “As we continue to reform state government so it better serves its families, we must do so in a way that advances dignity, empathy, opportunity and grace,” Pritzker said. “In each of these ways, this legislation moves us forward.”


The measure, known as Ashley’s Law, takes effect Jan. 1.


Ashley Surin, a suburban middle school student, suffered seizures caused by her cancer treatment. Ashley began using medical cannabis to alleviate her symptoms, and her parents filed suit to allow her to receive the drug at school. Last year, the Illinois attorney general’s office and Schaumburg School District 54 agreed to let her receive the drug while at school.


 “This little girl is trying to grow, and her poor body can’t grow if it’s drugged up on different medicines and she can’t think or talk or walk or speak or write,” her mother, Maureen Surin, said at Monday’s bill signing in Springfield, describing what led to them to medical cannabis for Ashley.


It’s been a year and a half since Ashley has had a seizure, Maureen Surin said.