In a set-back for medical marijuana activists, Illinois has declined to expand the conditions that may be treated under a medical marijuana program which may also have repercussions for the viability of the program.
Illinois began its pilot program for medical marijuana in 2013 with the signature of then-Gov. Pat Quinn. It was set to be a four-year program beginning in 2014, with more than 30 conditions that may qualify a patient to get a medical marijuana ID photo.
The announcement came through the Illinois Department of Public Health in response to recommendations from an advisory board. A spokesperson for the department said the decision was essentially due to timing:
"As patients have just started purchasing medical cannabis, 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 period. . . . At this time, it is premature to expand the pilot program before there is the ability to evaluate it under the current statutory requirements."
The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended that the state add at least eight additional conditions to qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. They included, but were not limited to chronic pain due to trauma, autism, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The decision from the governor's office was met with contempt from advocates for an expanded medical marijuana program. Lon Hodge, a Vietnam War veteran and a medical marijuana activist who suffers from PTSD, said it is evident Governor Bruce Rauner is siding with a pharmaceutical industry that reaps the financial rewards from the expensive painkillers often prescribed to battle-scarred veterans.
There are now numerous people employed in the Illinois medical marijuana field whose time and energy are being wasted:
"You've got clinics now that only have 3 or 4 people coming in per day. That's just not sustainable with a $1.5 million investment like these guys have. These are pharmacists and other folks with incredible training, who not only are financially in this, but put their heart and soul into this to do the right thing for patients."
A Forbes article published prior to Governor Rauner's decision noted that the Illinois medical marijuana experiment already faced a precarious future. According to Forbes, only 4,000 patients were approved for applications from September 2014 (when the program opened) through the end of 2015. An estimated 20,000-30,000 patients in the next six months would likely be required to make the industry economically worthwhile.
Last September, Rauner vetoed a proposal to extend the Illinois medical marijuana pilot program beyond 2017. Rauner, who ran for governor in 2014 on a pro-business platform, could face some political backlash if his administration is seen as the reason for another industry failing in Illinois.