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Senate clears way for pilot medical pot program extension

Medical marijuana plants. AP file photo

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would extend the state’s pilot medical cannabis program to 2020.

The current pilot program will end on Jan. 1, 2018 if the bill doesn’t make it through the Illinois House. The measure, sponsored by State Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, would extend the program an additional two years to July 1, 2020.

Haine’s bill passed the Senate 34-11 on Thursday.

“This is to provide some stable view of terrain to those who are investing in the growing of the cannabis as well as the dispensaries,” Haine said on the Senate floor, adding many stakeholders were unsure about the program’s stability in Illinois.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, pointed out both the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget are opposed to the legislation, so it’s unclear whether Gov. Bruce Rauner would support the pilot program’s extension if it makes it through the House.

About 6,200 people in Illinois are approved to use medical marijuana, which is a relatively low number compared to other states. Rauner has twice rejected the recommendations from the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to add more medical conditions to the list of those who can become medical marijuana patients. There are 40 ailments on the approved list, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The first dispensaries in Illinois opened last November.

Besides the extension, the bill would also require the Department of Public Health to forward a patient ID card to a program that monitors prescriptions and would note in the person’s record whether the person is lawfully entitled to the medical use of cannabis. It would also require the department and dispensaries to post on their websites information available from other states regarding the proper use of medical cannabis.