Mary Baran suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and wants to legally use medical marijuana, but she said her doctor won’t recommend her for the program.
She’s not alone, according to marijuana advocacy group NORML Illinois.
“We’ve heard from a lot of patients that they just can’t get their doctors to write recommendations,” said the group’s Executive Director Dan Linn. People who apply to use medical marijuana must have their doctor’s approval before the state will grant the user license.
Patient application numbers released by the state show people are not completing the application process.
About 11,000 people have registered to begin the application process to be granted a medical marijuana user license, according to state spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. But of those, only 1,600 have submitted at least part of the application, which includes a sign-off from a treating doctor. Just 600 people have been approved, Arnold said.
Officials with NORML believe part of problem is that doctors aren’t willing to sign the state-required recommendation document, stalling patients seeking to register.
“You have patients trying to talk to their doctors about medical cannabis, and the doctors are even refusing to engage in the conversation,” Linn said.
Baran isn’t among those who have begun the application process, which costs up to $100.
“I already knew my current doctors . . . weren’t going to sign up on it and I was like,’Why bother?’” the 49-year-old from Glen Ellyn said.
She switched doctors and now has to wait to establish a bona fide relationship before she can qualify to apply.
William McDade, a doctor and president of the Illinois State Medical Society, doesn’t believe Illinois doctors are shying away from recommending their patients to the program.
McDade said some doctors “may not feel comfortable they are within the letter of the law.”
“But I don’t think that’s going to be a majority of people,” he said. “I think most physicians view marijuana as a pharmaceutical.”
Most doctors, he said, are “earnestly trying to understand how the law works.”
But the lack of research about the health benefits of the plant means doctors may be hesitant to consider it as an option when treating a seriously ill person.
“Until we see really good data, that allows us to say medical marijuana makes a difference . . . I don’t think you’ll see physicians advocating it,” McDade said.
On Thursday, state officials couldn’t say how many applications were missing a doctor’s certification.
“The large number of people who have started the application process points to a successful start to the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. We have had a diversity of doctor certifications throughout the state for a variety of conditions,” Arnold, the spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We know there are some patients and physicians who continue to educate themselves about this program, and look forward to even more participating physicians in the future.”
Meanwhile, Baran, who uses cannabis to treat chronic pain associated with her condition, has found a new doctor and said she was told after six months of building a relationship, the doctor would consider recommending her to the program.
Scott Stroder, 62, of downstate Wood River, is also waiting.
He suffers from a myriad of qualifying conditions, he said, but his doctor won’t go for it yet.
“Everything is pretty much still up in the air,” Stroder said. “They’re not making it easy for anybody, I don’t think.”