This is the first in a series of Sun-Times info guides about cannabis. Today, we look at medical marijuana in Illinois. 

Illinois is among 31 states that have medical cannabis laws allowing people with certain conditions to use marijuana and other cannabis derivatives for treatment. Medical cannabis is found in a variety of forms, including marijuana flower, edibles and tinctures, among others.

While the cannabis plant is comprised of over 100 chemicals, or cannabinoids, the most prominent are psychoactive THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and non-intoxicating CBD, or cannabidiol.

CBD has grown increasingly popular, with users reporting that it can treat everything from Crohn’s disease to epilepsy without creating the stony effects of THC. CBD can come from both hemp and marijuana, although marijuana-based CBD tends to have higher THC levels.

Keep reading to learn more about the medical cannabis in Illinois:

What’s the medical marijuana law in Illinois?

In Illinois, medical cannabis is legal pot that’s bought by a qualifying patient or caregiver from a licensed retailer.

In August 2013, Former Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which legalized the cultivation, sale and use of medical pot in the state.

Illinois started accepting applications for patients, vendors and growers in September 2014, and dispensaries started doling out grass the following November. Gov. Bruce Rauner later signed a bill in July 2016 that extended the state’s medical pot program until 2020.

Illinois’ program remains one of the most restrictive in the nation, with regulators tracking cannabis from seed-to-sale and handing out a limited number of licenses for dispensaries and cultivation facilities.

In addition, Rauner has been resistant to many proposals that would have expanded the program.

In a June 2016 ruling, a Cook County judge ordered the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of debilitating conditions after Rauner rejected a recommendation from the now-defunct Cannabis Advisory Board and vetoed a bill that would have done just that. Rauner also shot down the advisory board’s proposals to add osteoarthritis, migraine and other ailments to the list of qualifying conditions. 

What medical conditions qualify for Illinois’ program?

Qualifying medical cannabis patients must be diagnosed with one of the 41 conditions that have been approved by the state, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and severe fibromyalgia. A full list of conditions can be found here.

The Illinois Department of Public Heath has approved applications for 42,203 qualifying patients since the agency started accepting applications four years ago, according to figures released last month.

In August 2018, Rauner signed a new law allowing opioid patients access to medical pot, a move that could significantly expand the statewide program.

It’s unclear how many new medical cannabis patients will be added under the law. However, more than 5 million opioid prescriptions were given to over 2 million Illinoisans in 2017, according to Jack Campbell, director of the state’s medical cannabis program.

Under the new law, qualifying patients will be able to apply for the program online with a doctor’s recommendation, get a temporary receipt and take that to a dispensary to buy medical cannabis while their applications are being processed. In addition, the law did away with requirements for fingerprinting and background checks.

How do prospective patients get a medical cannabis card?

Qualifying patients must follow these steps in order to get a card:

  1. Receive written certification from a doctor within 90 days of submitting your application to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  2. Complete and sign the state’s medical cannabis application form. This form requires prospective patients to choose the marijuana dispensary they will visit and designate a caregiver, if necessary. Caregivers obtain cannabis for users who are unable to visit dispensaries on their own.
  3. Pay the application fee. Prospective patients applying for a one-year card need to pony up $100, while the application fee for a two-year card is $200 and the fee for three-year card is $250. All fees for veterans and people with disabilities have been cut in half.
  4. Include a passport-sized photo taken in front of a plain, white backdrop with nothing in the background. Don’t send a selfie.
  5. Prove Illinois residency. You will need two items to prove your residency. Copies of bank statements, utility bills, state IDs, driver’s licenses and voter ID cards are acceptable.
  6. Prove age and identity. Include a copy of a valid government-issued photo ID.
  7. Include a caregiver application, the accompanying fee and other documents if a patient requires a caregiver.
  8. Send in a DD-214 discharge form if a patient is a veteran. If patients are being treated at a Veterans Affairs facility, they can also send 12 months of medical records from the VA instead of a physician certification form.

What’s next after getting a card?

Once a patient has been approved for the state’s medical program, they can go to the dispensary they selected during the application process to buy cannabis.

Patients relying on a caregiver will be able to use cannabis the caregiver has bought for them at an approved dispensary.

Where can a qualified patient buy medical marijuana?  

Qualifying patients can buy medical marijuana from the dispensary of their choice, but they can’t legally purchase medical pot anywhere else. A full list of Illinois dispensaries can be found here.

Medical cannabis patients can change their dispensary free of charge by completing the Medical Cannabis Selection Form and speaking to a representative from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Patients can go to their new dispensary 24 hours after receiving confirmation the application has been processed.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has granted licenses to 55 medical marijuana dispensaries across the state, many of which are located in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has permitted 21 cultivation centers to grow marijuana legally. Qualifying patients can’t buy pot directly from a cultivation center.

How much medical marijuana is sold in Illinois?

The state of Illinois has tallied nearly $200 million in dispensary sales since cannabis was made available to patients in 2015, according to the figures released in August 2018.

Meanwhile, cultivation centers have wholesaled over $111 million worth of cannabis since medical sales started, including over $40 million in sales in the first 8 months of 2018 alone, according to the state’s figures.

Due to the cautious regulation of Illinois’ medical cannabis program, statewide sales have been dwarfed by transactions in states like Arizona and Michigan, where more dispensary licenses are handed out.

What other states have medical cannabis programs?

Illinois is one of 31 states that have legalized medical cannabis, with laws skewing from one state to the next. To read more about medical marijuana laws in other states, check out NORML’s handy guide.

The nine states that have fully legalized pot, including California and Colorado, no longer require doctor’s recommendations for medical cannabis.

Despite the growing acceptance of medical pot at the state level, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

How does Illinois deal with recreational pot?

In July 2016, Rauner signed a bill that decriminalized petty pot possession in Illinois, although the sale and use of recreational remains illegal in the state. Now, people caught with up to 10 grams of pot face a citation instead of a criminal charge.

But people found with larger amounts of pot and those accused of trafficking the drug still face prison time if they’re convicted.

Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial J.B. Pritzker has vowed to fully legalize marijuana if he’s elected in November. Pritzker has estimated that legal pot sales could bring in between $350 million and $700 million in yearly tax revenue, a figure anti-pot groups have rebuffed.

Pritzker has said that he would review and commute the sentences of people who have been locked up for marijuana offenses.

RELATED

POT TOPICS is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times.  You can find the recent edition here.

Our coverage also includes: