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New Illinois law bans all types of ‘fake weed’

Cresco Labs' cannabis cultivation facility in Joliet. | Anne Costabile/Sun-Times

Hundreds of new laws took effect on New Year’s Day, including a pot-related measure that adds all synthetic cannabinoids to the Illinois Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Bill 2341 classifies synthetic substances as dangerous Schedule I drugs if they haven’t beed approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or aren’t being dispensed or possessed in accordance with state or federal law. Piperazines, which mimic the effects of ecstasy, and synthetic cannabinoids were both targeted in the legislation.

Synthetic pot, often marketed as “K2” or “spice,” is made by spraying chemicals on dried plant material; it also is sold as a liquid for use in vaporizers, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. While many synthetic cannabinoids are already illegal in Illinois, the new measure closes a loophole that has allowed drug makers to skirt the law by making minor changes to an illegal drug’s chemical composition.

In spring 2018, the state health department linked four deaths and over a hundred illnesses to the use of synthetic cannabinoids that had been laced with rat poison. Symptoms included coughing up blood, bloody urine, a severe bloody nose, bleeding gums and internal bleeding, the agency said.

a package of K2 , a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals.

AP file photo

“Like so many other drugs, synthetic cannabinoids are addictive and people are not able to give them up,” Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the state health department, said earlier this year. “Alternatively, they think that it won’t happen to them because they know their dealer or trust wherever they purchased the drugs.”

Synthetic pot manufacturers and people caught with the drug will soon face Class 3 and Class 4 felonies, respectively.

Some of the most crucial elements of Senate Bill 336, or the Alternatives to Opioids Act, are also expected to take effect at the end of January. The measure, signed into law in August by Gov. Bruce Rauner, gives patients diagnosed with a condition requiring an opioid prescription the option to obtain a temporary medical cannabis card.

Starting as early as Jan. 31, qualifying patients will need to obtain a doctor’s note verifying their condition before they can apply for a 90-day medical card through the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program, an offshoot of the state’s medical pot program. After 90 days, a doctor can then renew a patient’s card.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs a medical marijuana bill

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs SB 336 on Aug. 28, 2018. | Sun-Times file photo

Opioid patients “will be registered, either online by establishing an account, or at a dispensary, and have immediate access to medical cannabis,” said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Starting that same day, the bill also will allow other medical cannabis applicants to qualify for provisional access to the program. The move aims to address a backlog of applications that has left some prospective patients waiting months for a medical pot card.

After receiving a provisional registration letter confirming their application and fees are being processed, new or renewing applicants will be able to purchase medical marijuana products for 90 days. After that, applicants can renew their provisional registration for another 90 days if they haven’t received their permanent medical card by then.

Correction: This story originally stated that Senate Bill 1707 would create a certification requirement for medical cannabis cultivators based on incorrect information provided by Illinois Senate Democrats. That provision was actually written out of the legislation, which aims to improve mental health parity and expand access to addiction treatment.