On Thursday, September 10, Governor Bruce Rauner halted
further expansion of the Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot program. The Rauner
administration refused to extend the list of medical conditions that can be
treated by medical marijuana, stressing the program was still in its premature days and
further evaluation is needed before expansion. “The pilot program is moving forward, but remains in its
early stage,” said Rauner.
The Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot program was enacted on January 1st 2014 with the purpose
of protecting both patients with impairing illnesses and health care providers
from prosecution in prescribing or recommending the medical use of cannabis. An
advisory board appointed by former Governor Pat Quinn manages the expansion of
the pilot program. The board reviews
petitions from Illinois residents to add medical conditions that benefit from
the medical use of cannabis. Since the pilot program’s enactment, approximately
3,000 Illinois residents
are deemed eligible for medical marijuana and the state has six cultivation centers
set to receive IDs for Marijuana workers to begin growing marijuana for medical
use. Despite the progress that has been
made, however, eligible patients have difficulty receiving medical cannabis.
Currently the state only has two dispensaries, and only one located in Chicago.
Thus, while the state begins to cultivate cannabis for medical reasons and
approves patients for its use, there are few outlets patients can actually
purchase cannabis from. This illustrates the tense situation Illinois faces in route to implementing a
successful medical cannabis program.
On one hand, the Rauner administration and it’s proponents articulate
the fact that the Illinois medical program is in a premature state and
expansion is unwarranted. In explaining his decision to expand the pilot
program, Rauner said “No patients have yet been served and, consequently, the
state has not had the opportunity to evaluate the benefits and costs of the
pilot program or determine areas for improvement or even whether to extend the
program beyond its pilot program.”
Additionally, extending the pilot program without careful deliberation can have
not only medical drawbacks but can be costly. A recent dispensary in
Mundelein had an estimated cost of $1 million.
Proponents of expansion argue refusal to expand the pilot
program puts Illinois’ medical cannabis program at a stalemate. Patients
experiencing medical conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana are forced
to take other pharmaceutical drugs that may not be as effective for their conditions.
Furthermore, as medical marijuana is mainly for patients experiencing
debilitating illnesses, the health of potential patients continues to
deteriorate as they wait for the opportunity to use medical marijuana.
The recent refusal to expand the pilot program included a rejecting
the addition of eleven conditions
recommended by the advisory board as suitable for treatment by medical
cannabis. Leslie Mendoza Temple, a Chicago Physician and chair of the advisory
board, expressed her disappointment at the
Rauner administration’s decision. “I’m disappointed after how hard we worked as
a board to review the medical evidence and hear patient testimony…I’m
disappointed most of all for my patients… It leaves us fewer options to control
their pain and suffering.” One of the conditions within the board’s
recommendation was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a common illness
among veterans. Supporters of adding PTSD to the pilot program said the Rauner administration’s decision was disrespectful to veterans. “[Veterans] gave their lives, health and freedom to serve us
and today our governor, who is the head of our state, let them down,” said Sandy Champion, wife of veteran Jim Champion who
suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Another drawback in Illinois’ medical marijuana program is
the difficulty employees face in the workplace. Although the pilot program
prohibits discrimination by employers against employees that are registered to
use medical marijuana, the law still gives
employers the opportunity to adopt regulations governing the consumption of
medical marijuana by employees and enforcing drug tests, zero-tolerance, and
drug free workplace policies. Moreover, the law does not provide any loophole
from the federal Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule
1 controlled substance, further putting employers in a tough position. As a result, Illinois employers face a
struggle between complying with federal law and adopting reasonable drug
policies out of fear that workers’
compensation and liability insurance providers will not reimburse expenses.
This struggle creates low job security for employees registered to use medical
The governor’s refusal to expand the pilot program coupled
with a stagnant progress in the cultivation of marijuana, a low supply of dispensaries,
and low job security for medical marijuana using employees has placed the
entire Illinois medical cannabis program in gridlock. As the medical community
increasingly accepts marijuana as a viable treatment and states continue to
legalize its use, barriers to patients’ use of medical marijuana will
continually hinder the growth of medical marijuana programs. For patients
facing debilitating illnesses, medical marijuana can be a successful treatment
option for many and in some cases, perhaps the best. Unless Illinois begins to
effectively move forward in its medical marijuana program, patients will
continue to be left in a state of limbo unable to seek proper treatment for
A. Khan is a second year law student at DePaul University College of Law. Mr.
Khan graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University with a Bachelor of Arts
in Political Science and minor in Economics. He is a member of DePaul's Health
Law Institute and will complete his J.D. in 2017.