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Medical Marijuana Gets Real

Patients could start buying the drug in spring 2015

The regulations are in. In July, the Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules approved the rules for the state’s medical cannabis pilot program, which allows growers and retailers to apply for permits. The state will issue 60 permits—13 of them will be issued in Chicago. Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, predicts that Illinois will see annual sales of $20 to $30 million, and up to $6 million in yearly permit fees.

In order to obtain medical marijuana, patients will undergo a background check, get fingerprinted, and pay $100 every year for a medical marijuana registry ID card, replete with a photo. Patients on Social Security disability income will pay a discounted rate of $50 per year. Caregivers for patients can obtain a card for $25 per year.

Patients whose last names begin with A–L can apply for the ID card starting in September through the end of October. Patients with last names beginning in M–Z can apply in November through December. In 2015, applications will be accepted at any time regardless of the last name.

But even though patients are accepted for the ID card, they will not have access to marijuana until the spring of 2015 when supplies are ready. That’s because all medical marijuana must be grown in the state and it cannot contain seeds. As a result, growers held off on planting seeds because the detailed rules were not approved until this July. It takes about four months for the crops to grow.

In addition, the legislative committee has proposed a nine-member advisory board to review requests for adding medical conditions to the approved list. Currently, more than 41 serious conditions are on the approved list, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and lupus. The governor will appoint a patient advocate, and physicians in the field of neurology, pain management, cancer, psychiatry, infectious disease, family medicine, and medical ethics to the board, as well as pharmacists.

On Aug. 1, 2013, Illinois became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. The Illinois law is considered to be one of the strictest in the nation. For example, growing centers are under 24-hour video surveillance; patients who obtain medical marijuana from other states will not be able to obtain it in Illinois; and patients can only purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, DC. However, no hospital has sold the drug yet through a pharmacy dispensary. Representatives from Northwestern Memorial Hospital say they will not be selling marijuana any time soon. Rush University Medical Center is undecided.

Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital, however, would like to be the first hospital in Illinois to dispense marijuana, despite the obstacles. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, Medicare and Medicaid can deny hospital reimbursement claims. Perhaps an even bigger problem for Swedish Covenant is that Illinois law requires all dispensaries to be 1,000 feet away from a school playground, child care center, public park or library. Because the hospital is adjacent to a school and its playground, Swedish Covenant will ask the state for an exception.

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