Medical cannabis program expands



Last update: November 5, 2018


Gov. Bruce Rauner signed SB 336 into law, significantly improving the state medical cannabis program. Among several key changes, the measure would allow anyone who could obtain a prescription for an opioid medication to get regulated access to medical cannabis. It would also greatly streamline the process by allowing applicants to get preliminary authorization with a physician’s recommendation, shortening wait times by several weeks. The program will also no longer require all applicants to submit fingerprints to the state health department. Finally, the state program will no longer bar those with criminal histories from access to medical cannabis. The new law represents an incredible series of improvements.

At the same time, lawmakers continue to fine-tune a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in Illinois and tax and regulate cannabis similar to alcohol. Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy introduced a bill in 2017 that would do just that, and they are in the process of publishing a new bill before the end of the year. It is likely that by the time lawmakers meet in 2019, they will have a comprehensive and carefully vetted legalization program for lawmakers to consider.

And the voters in Illinois clearly support it. For the second year in a row, 66% of voters in Illinois support a legalization program that taxes and regulates cannabis for adults similar to alcohol. A referendum in Cook County corroborated that support. The Democratic challenger to Gov. Rauner this November, J.B. Pritzker, has strongly advocated for legalization. Illinois is poised to make this historic shift.

Challenges continue in medical cannabis program


The state’s medical cannabis program improved last year when it was extended until at least July 2020, along with adding conditions including PTSD and terminal illness. This year, it took a major step forward with the enactment of SB 336. The new law allows anyone who could obtain an opioid prescription to qualify for access to medical cannabis, eliminates the fingerprint requirement for patients, allows patients to access medical cannabis once their paperwork is submitted (rather than waiting weeks for a registration card), and removes the ban on those with felony criminal histories. It is likely the program will grow significantly in the next year as patients find it easier to get access and work with the health department.

For more information on how to register as a patient, or to see announcements from state program officials, follow this link.

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