Under emergency rules, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced in December 2014 that children will be allowed access to medical marijuana.
A qualifying patient under 18 years of age may obtain medical marijuana similarly as an adult patient. However, for children, an adult caregiver (custodial parent or legal guardian) must play an active role in the application process.[i] The adult caregiver will complete the registry identification card application for the child and provide a signed legal guardian attestation form providing permission for the child to receive medical marijuana. Children will be required to a submit photograph, but are not required to submit a fingerprint; only adult caregivers are required to submit fingerprints. Additionally, the child must obtain approval from their treating physician and a reviewing physician before gaining access.[ii] After all the approvals have been obtained, children will be granted access only to marijuana-infused food products or oils from a registered dispensary.[iii] Children are not allowed to access raw pot for smoking purposes. Once a patient reaches the age of 18, he or she may apply for a registration identification card immediately on their own or during their renewal period.
These emergency rules are enacted at a critical time when leading physicians and medical associations are calling on medical marijuana research reform. In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) called on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify marijuana so that more research can be done to learn about potential benefits in children.[iv] The AAP is appealing to the DEA to remove marijuana from the Schedule 1 listing for controlled substances that includes heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Schedule 1 controlled substances are not considered to have “currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”[v] The AAP recommends changing marijuana to be included as a Schedule II drug to facilitate research on the effects of children. Since the AAP released their first policy statement on the legalization of marijuana in 2004, the limited research that has been conducted on the potential therapeutics effects of medicinal marijuana with adults has demonstrated that usage can increase appetite and decrease nausea. However, no studies have been conducted on the therapeutic effects of medical marijuana in children.
In February, U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, gave an interview with CBS This Morning stating, “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful. I think that we have to use that data to drive policymaking.”[vi] Twenty-three states in the U.S. have legalized medical marijuana while four states, Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. This optimism by the Surgeon General suggests an openness to breaking down the barriers medical marijuana has faced within the government.
Despite an increasing acceptance of medical marijuana for children, there are critics who question the potential long-term harm of chronic marijuana use on developing brains. Some fear that regular use of marijuana in children may be linked to “persistent declines in intelligence quotient and increased risk of addiction, major depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic thinking.”[vii] While these might be potential side effects to marijuana usage, much research still needs to be done in order to determine the long-term effects on children. Hopefully with the AAP and U.S. Surgeon General open to the possibility of medical marijuana, more research will be conducted on the pediatric population.
[i] 77 Ill. Adm. Code 946.210
[ii] 77 Ill. Adm. Code 946.310(c)
[iii] 77 Ill. Adm. Code 946.280 (d)
[iv] Policy Statement: The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update, The American Academy of Pediatrics (Jan. 26 2015), http://freepdfhosting.com/f083a500ee.pdf.
[v] 21 C.F.R. 1308.11
[vi] Surgeon General:Measles Vaccine is Safe and Effective, CBS This Morning (February 4, 2015), http://www.cbsnews.com/news/surgeon-general-dr-vivek-murthy-on-measles-vaccine-marijuana-legalization/
[vii] Medical Marijuana for Children with Developmental and Behavioral Disorders? ScienceDaily (February 5, 2015) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150205122733.htm