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Hard pass: Pot smokers won’t get vaccine priority

Officials on Thursday confirmed that even though cigarette smokers can now get shots, weed tokers aren’t eligible despite potentially facing a higher risk of falling seriously ill.

A person smoking marijuana AP file photo

Officials on Thursday confirmed that weed smokers aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations under the current phase of the state’s immunization plan — despite potentially facing a higher risk of falling seriously ill.

Under Illinois’ vaccination Phase 1B+ — which took effect on Feb. 25 but hasn’t been implemented locally — smokers are among those prioritized for vaccine shots.

However, Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said that phase doesn’t include pot tokers because the state is following guidance put forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. While Pritzker was instrumental in leading Illinois’ push to fully legalize marijuana, cannabis is still prohibited on the federal level.

The American Lung Association warns that cannabis use can lead to chronic bronchitis, a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that the CDC says “is known to increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

The lung association notes that weed smoke “has been shown to injure the cell linings of the large airways, which could explain why smoking marijuana leads to symptoms such as chronic cough, phlegm production, wheeze and acute bronchitis.

“Smoking marijuana has also been linked to cases of air pockets in between both lungs and between the lungs and the chest wall, as well as large air bubbles in the lungs among young to middle-aged adults, mostly heavy smokers of marijuana,” the lung association says.

Dr. Howard Ehrman, the former assistant commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said he supports inoculating cannabis smokers under the current vaccination phase, noting that public health officials “should be consistent.”

“It doesn’t have nicotine and doesn’t have a lot of the other chemicals, but pot smoke is not good for anything in your body,” said Ehrman, who nevertheless said he supported the legalization push.

Though Illinoisans with documented cases of COPD are eligible for shots under Phase 1B+, those with undiagnosed chronic bronchitis will have to wait.

Suburban Cook County will move into Phase 1B+ on Monday, the county’s health department announced Wednesday. But Chicago still hasn’t formally moved on, according to CDPH spokesman Andrew Buchanan.

Buchanan said city officials “consider this a transitional phase,” though providers who have “exhausted their outreach” to seniors and those who qualify under earlier phases can now begin vaccinating those included in Phase 1B+.

Meanwhile, Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health chief, announced Wednesday that Chicagoans with underlying health conditions will be eligible to sign up for vaccination appointments starting March 29.