Medical Marijuana in Illinois

About The Illinois Medical Marijuana Program

As state cannabis laws go, Illinois’ medical marijuana program has a fairly unique story. From being banned in 1931 to now being on the verge of legalizing marijuana for all adults, the story spans more than eight decades.

One of the more interesting facts that most people don’t know about medical marijuana in Illinois is that the state was a very early adopter with lawmakers having technically legalized the drug for medicinal use way, way back in 1978.

However, due to the exceedingly tedious and unfortunate dragging of feet by health and law enforcement officials, the time and effort that went into making that law happen were completely wasted and thousands of residents who might have benefited from it suffered instead.

Four decades later, Illinois is now one of more than 30 U.S. states with a regulated medical cannabis market. Today, Illinois operates a thriving medical marijuana program that benefits more than 60,000 thousand patients statewide.

Let’s delve into the history and details of the Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot Program as well as its Opioid Alternative Pilot Program and potential future legalization for all adults.

A Brief History of Illinois Marijuana Laws

In the early part of the 20th Century, the United States began its fall into a state of “Reefer Madness” and Illinois lawmakers were right there with the prohibitionists. In 1931, Illinois officially declared all forms of cannabis illegal in the state.

Nearly half a century later, In 1978, Illinois become one of the very first states to endorse the use of marijuana in medicine when lawmakers passed a little-known bill called the Cannabis Control Act. Although the law paved the way for a statewide medical marijuana program its implementation depended on two state agencies to do their part in drafting rules for the program. Sadly, neither the Illinois Department of Human Services nor the State Police took any action to make the program a reality.

It would be another quarter century before Illinoisans would be able to benefit from the medicinal properties of Cannabis sativa which had been utilized by humans for millennia before U.S. prohibition.

In 2013, Illinois lawmakers drafted the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, officially legalizing the use of medical cannabis, albeit under tightly controlled circumstances.
Then Governor Patrick Quinn signed the bill into law and the program officially took effect in January of 2014 when applications for patients, growers, and vendors became available.

In June 2016, a judge ordered the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions after the governor vetoed a bill that would have done so. Proposals to add osteoarthritis, migraine, and other ailments to the list of qualifying conditions were also vetoed.

Then in July of 2016, Illinois decriminalized marijuana making possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana punishable by a $100 – $200 fine. At the same time, lawmakers set a limit of 5 nanograms/ml of THC in the blood for drivers — including medical patients.

Illinois’ medical cannabis program was expanded upon in 2018. With a series of new bills, medical marijuana qualifying conditions were expanded. Also, in an attempt to stem the tide of opioid addiction and overdose in the state, cannabis was approved as an opioid alternative. The application process was also made less daunting when fingerprinting and criminal background checks were eliminated.

Current estimates suggest that the program could see more than 365,000 new patients as a result of the expansion.

Stepping back a year, in March of 2017, some Illinois lawmakers advanced a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. That effort failed. However, a renewed effort spearheaded by billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker is looking like it has potential to pass in 2019.

The proposal which was recently unveiled is being hailed as one of the more progressive in the nation. If passed, although the law would not replace the medical marijuana program, residents would no longer need a recommendation from a doctor to purchase and consume cannabis.

As of August 2018, nearly $200 million worth of medical marijuana products had been sold in Illinois. This includes smokable forms of the drug such as dried flower and concentrates, as well as infused edibles, tinctures, beverages, vape oils, and skin creams. Licensed growers in the state have sold over $111 million worth of wholesale cannabis $40 million of which was sold in the first 8 months of 2018.

Although the program was recently expanded and simplified, statewide sales have been far lower than in many other states with legal medical marijuana. However with new rules in place those numbers are expected to rise dramatically.

As we mentioned, Gov. Pritzker is working to legalize marijuana for all adults. Pritzker estimates that legal marijuana could bring in tax revenue of between $350 million and $700 million per year.

Pritzker’s proposal also commutes the sentences of thousands of residents who have been incarcerated for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program

Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Patient Program (MCPP), which finally began serving patients in early 2015 permits patients suffering from a list of qualifying conditions to purchase and consume medical marijuana products produced by state-licensed growers and sold in licensed dispensaries.

The IDPH began issuing provisional registration cards for the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program on February 1, 2019, allowing access to medical cannabis while the patient’s application is being processed. The OAPP, is part of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program (MCPP). It permits individuals who have or could receive a prescription for opioids to substitute medical marijuana to manage their pain.

In order to partake in either program, patients must be a resident of Illinois and will be required to obtain a written recommendation from a certified physician licensed to practice medicine in Illinois. In order to recommend medical marijuana, a physician must state that they have an ongoing relationship with the patient.

Under recent expansions, Veterans receiving care from the VA office are no longer required to obtain a physician’s certification.

Patients under the age of 18 may designate a caregiver to purchase and administer their medicine. However, only cannabis-infused products are permitted while smokeable forms of marijuana are prohibited for minors.

As of April 2019, more than 60,000 patients participate in the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program and Illinois Opioid Alternative Pilot Program and there are currently 55 Illinois medical marijuana dispensaries licensed by the state.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Qualifying Conditions:

How To Get A Medical Marijuana Card In Illinois

As mentioned earlier, in order to take part in the program patients must obtain a written recommendation from their doctor confirming that they suffer from at least one of the qualifying debilitating conditions listed above. Veterans can include 12 months of VA medical records in the place of a physician’s written recommendation.

You can find a list of certified Illinois medical marijuana doctors here.

Once you have been examined by a certified physician and deemed eligible for the program you’ll need to complete the medical cannabis application form. This form requires patients to choose which dispensary they will be using to purchase their medicine, however patients can change their dispensary at any time.

An application fee must accompany your application. Fees are $100 for a card good for one year, or $200 for two years, or $250 for three years. For veterans and patients with disabilities applications fees are halved.

In order to get your Illinois medical marijuana card, you’ll need to supply a passport-sized photo taken in front of a plain, white backdrop. If you do not have the means to print a proper photo some drug store chains such as Walmart offer walk-in passport photo service.

You’ll also have to provide two pieces of evidence of residency in the state. These can include utility bills, bank statements, state IDs, driver’s licenses and voter ID cards.

As of August 2018, patients with a prescription for opioids can apply for the medical marijuana program online with a doctor’s written certification. These patients will receive a temporary card, which they can present to a dispensary to buy medical cannabis while their applications are being processed.

Caregivers must also meet a set of qualifications and carry a medical cannabis registry card. In order to be a designated caregiver, you must be 21 or older and have no felony convictions. All caregivers are subject to a background check. Caregivers are allowed to serve only one patient at a time and are not allowed to charge for their services.

The Illinois Department of Public Health works with certified local health departments (LHD) to provide free assistance with completing applications for the Medical Cannabis Registry Program.

What About CBD Oil? Do You Really Need The THC?

CBD oil, a product not derived from marijuana but rather from hemp, has been growing increasingly popular in recent years. Moreover, it can be purchased by all residents.

“Hemp” is a term denoting strains of cannabis that are effectively THC-free (less than 0.3% THC). CBD oil does not cause a high and can be purchased outside of the state’s medical marijuana program. Marijuana laws do not apply to CBD oil in Illinois.

CBD itself falls in the same family of compounds as THC, which are known as cannabinoids. There are 80 or so cannabinoids produced in cannabis, THC and CBD being by far the most abundant. Cannabinoids have profound effects on a system in the human body known as the endocannabinoid system which is responsible for making adjustments to the body to maintain a balanced state of health.

While THC binds with receptors in the brain resulting in the high experienced by marijuana users, CBD does not and is therefore non-intoxicating.

Many CBD oil users report substantial relief from their symptoms without the THC. This includes patients of dozens of conditions including epilepsy, digestive disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain including fibromyalgia, and much more.

So, do you really need the THC? Unless you’re specifically looking for effects attributed to THC, you might want to give CBD oil a try first. There are other reasons for this aside from avoiding intoxicating effects such as not showing up in a drug test, not risking a DWI conviction, not requiring a relationship with a doctor, and being easier to purchase. (That being said, you really should let your doctor know you’re considering using CBD oil.)

Learn More About CBD Here

Where To Buy Medical Marijuana In Illinois

Medical marijuana dispensaries are located throughout the state of Illinois, especially in the large metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Rockford, Joliet, Naperville, and Springfield. As of the time of writing, there are 55 medical marijuana dispensaries across the state.

Additional Resources

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