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Illinois medical marijuana advocates want expanded access to legal weed

Written by
Clayton Guse
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It's been more than two years since the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program went into effect, but legally distributed pot has only recently become a reality in the state. As of November 9 of last year, more than a dozen dispensaries were open statewide, and patients with one of 39 approved medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation became free to find relief by way of some sweet, sweet cheeba. But Illinois' medical marijuana bill is one of the most restrictive in the nation, and the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) had approved just 4,000 patients as of January 6, which isn't exactly enough to sustain an industry.

lllinois residents may petition for more medical conditions diseases to be added to the state's cannabis program, which are then approved or disapproved by the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board—a 16-member team appointed by the governor. But even if a condition gets the green light from that board, the IDPH still gets the final say. Last September, the department announced that it would not be adding any more conditions or diseases to the original 39 listed in the act, even though eight conditions were approved by the advisory board after a petition process in July. 

This month, the state is once again taking petitions for new diseases and conditions to be added to the docket, and advocates statewide are hoping for better luck this time around. A Change.org petition branded "#CoverThe8" is looking to get those eight conditions and diseases, which include osteoarthritis, PTSD, autism and various types of chronic pain, approved by the IDPH. An online petition may be little more than spit in the wind, but it could help bring awareness to just how backwards Illinois' medical marijuana laws are compared to other states. 

If Springfield fails to act in the next two years, though, none of that petitioning will matter. The medical cannabis act is designated as a "four-year pilot program," which means that the state legislature and Governor Bruce Rauner's office will have to re-approve the bill before it expires at the end of 2017. It might be difficult to get Springfield to renew a medical marijuana bill at this point, especially when that the state has gone more than six months without a proper budget. 

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