Illinois Medical Cannabis: State Weighs Potential New Qualifying Conditions

Medical Marijuana IllinoisIt was a year ago that the Illinois Department of Public Health released its proposed rules and regulations governing patient access to and use of medical marijuana. We noted back then that the regulations included a provision establishing the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, whose chief concern is reviewing petitions for the inclusion of new qualifying conditions under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. The board, which consists of physicians, nurses, a medical ethicist, a pharmacist, and a couple of qualified medical cannabis patients (though not all spots on the board are filled yet), considers whether those suffering from the suggested condition would benefit from the medical use of marijuana.

Petitions were accepted during January and February of this year, and have now been released (minus patients’ identifying information) pursuant to a FOIA request made by the Associated Press. According to the Chicago Tribune, the approximately twenty petitions include requests to add PTSD, anxiety, migraines, insomnia, bipolar disorder, autism, gout, osteoarthritis, and the big one — chronic back pain. (Curiously though, the agenda for the board’s public hearing did not include all of the conditions named by the Trib.) We’ve written before about the fact that Illinois does not currently recognize any kind of general “pain” as a qualifying condition, which limits the pool of potential card-carrying MMJ patients in Illinois. Keeping in mind that part of the reason the Pilot Program got through the Illinois General Assembly at all was the concession by HB1’s sponsors that the qualifying conditions not include exploitable, vague conditions such as “chronic pain,” it seems likely that “chronic back pain” will receive a lot of scrutiny from the board and DPH. More nebulous afflictions such as anxiety will probably also get a hard look. Another question we suspect might arise is whether the types of doctors able to recommend medical cannabis should also be expanded, since, for example, someone suffering from PTSD might be treated by a psychiatrist. Currently, psychiatrists holding MDs qualify as a “physician” under the Act, but there may be an argument for including those with other credentials. Such an expansion would require legislative action, however.

The public hearing on the petitions was held just last Friday. Next up, the board will have to make its recommendations (if any) to the DPH director, making a case that there is a “medical justification” for adding qualifying conditions based upon the knowledge and experience of the board members. Medical research (severely limited in this arena) may also be considered. If any of the proposed conditions is recommended by the board for inclusion on the list of qualifying conditions, that recommendation must still be approved by the DPH director (who is subject to the will of Governor Rauner), and then undergo formal administrative rule making by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. In other words, an uphill battle. By law, final action on the petitions must occur within 180 days of the application. Another round of petitions will be accepted in July.

Needless to say, there is a lot at stake here for patients, doctors, and Illinois cannabis businesses. The process may also provide useful insight into how the Rauner administration will conduct the pilot program going forward. Stay tuned.

Oh, and by the way, on June 5, 2015, our Chicago office, in partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, Americans for Safe Access, and the Marijuana Policy Project, will be co-hosting the Illinois Medical Cannabis Physicians’ Summit at the Westin Chicago River North.