Illinois’ Medical Marijuana program kicks off with public comments

The Illinois medical marijuana pilot program was signed into law in 2013

May 7, 2014

(WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)
A speaker addresses an Illinois Department of Public Health panel about medical marijuana

The Illinois Department of Health hosted the public comments forum. It’s the first part of the state’s four-year pilot medical marijuana program. When he signed it into law in 2013, Governor Pat Quinn vowed Illinois would have the toughest rules and guidelines in the country. That’s what concerned many of the people who spoke Tuesday at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.

One issue had to do with how the state plans to identify those who’ll use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

“I just don’t think it’s fair that patients go through background checks when other patients don’t have to go through background checks to get their ritalin or whatever drugs they’re getting from doctors,” said Esther Lopez, who describes herself as a patient and a caregiver. “The person I take care of is on Social Security. She’s blind, disabled and gets food stamps. How is she supposed to afford this medicine?”

Steve Fix said he self-medicates to alleviate symptoms stemming from Crohn's Disease. His comments to the Illinois Department of Public Health were also about the amount it’ll cost to get into the program.

“The committee does have the authority to adjust the pricing and fees,” said Fix.“ It’ll cost $100 for most people and $50 for veterans to obtain a program card. “They do not have the authority to adjust fingerprinting that’s required.”

The comments were supposed to be for patient’s concerns. But others including doctors and potential dispensers had their say too.

“I’m a firm believer in this program rolling out effectively and correctly in Illinois,” said Lake County pharmacist Joseph Friedman. “Cannabis is a drug. And the idea that this be dispensed or procured or run by Illinois’ pharmacists is the best idea we can put on the table. There are things about this drug that a ‘budtender’ in Colorado will not have any idea about.”

Chicagoan Ralph Wilson, a retired public school teacher, says he wants to get in the medical marijuana business as both a dispenser and cultivator. He’s forming a corporation and if things go well, he’ll get a licensed pharmacist who’ll dispense the drug, as required by Illinois law. But he thinks there are too many unanswered questions that’ll leave him and other potential entrepreneurs without a chance to get started.

“The pilot program will end in either 2017 or 2018. So how do you go to a group of investors or a bank and say ‘I want to borrow $1 million dollars?’ And they say that program is going to be over in three years. How are you going to pay us back in three years? In four years?”

The state’s health department will give the comments to a legislative committee who’ll boil down the information and make any adjustments to the law that won’t interfere with some of the mandatory stipulations. For example, unlike California, where patients can grow their own drug, it will be against Illinois law to do so. That requirement is not subject to change.

Another public session is set for May 21 in Springfield. People who still want to add their written comments have until June 2 to do so at the website mcpp.illinois.gov

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