EDITORIAL: Appalling delays leave medical marijuana patients in pain

SHARE EDITORIAL: Appalling delays leave medical marijuana patients in pain

A woman holds the prescribed medical marijuana product used to treat her daughter’s epilepsy after making a purchase in February at a medical marijuana dispensary in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

People in severe pain need care and sympathy, not red tape.

Unfortunately, medical marijuana patients in Illinois have been getting the red tape. When doctors certify that patients have a qualifying disease, the state is supposed to give the patients a card permitting them to buy medical marijuana from an authorized dispensary. But though the law says patients should get the cards in 30 days or less, it’s reportedly taking the Illinois Department of Public Health far longer to issue them.


Even patients who have emergencies or terminal illnesses and who are supposed to get cards within 14 days are finding themselves snarled in red tape, lawmakers say.

That’s appalling. No one should have to suffer day after day and week after week because of bureaucratic understaffing or because the state government is doing a slow walk on an important program. Special taxes on businesses supplying medical marijuana have piled up, unspent, to a total of $11.6 million instead of being used to hire enough staff to process applications, says state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.

Joel Erickson, a Plainfield medical cannabis patient advocate, says that in other states, applications for medical marijuana are promptly processed. An exception was New Mexico, but when long delays were uncovered in that state, it triggered hearings and reforms, he said.

Illinois’ pilot medical marijuana program, which is set to expire in 2020, has been dogged by delays. It didn’t go into operation until about two years after it was approved. Supporters of the program had hoped to have 100,000 people signed up by now, but there are only about 34,000, according to IDPH numbers released Wednesday. The shortfall is putting a financial squeeze on businesses set up to cultivate or dispense medical marijuana.

This week, the business took another hit as the largest bank used by Illinois medical marijuana companies announced it will pull out of the industry in May.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health attributed the delays in issuing cards to frequent errors by applicants and waiting for background checks to be completed.

That’s not a sufficiently persuasive explanation. People who are in pain from various illnesses that don’t respond to other treatments might benefit greatly from medical marijuana. Letting them suffer is cruel.

Send letters@suntimes.com.

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