More than 2,000 apply to use medical marijuana in Illinois

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Jim Champion was the first person to submit an application to legally use medical marijuana in Illinois.

Champion led the pack of more than 2,000 seriously ill Illinoisans who have sent in applications seeking to use medical pot, according to state officials on Friday. Officials started accepting the paperwork Tuesday, beginning with letters A through L.

Champion, an Army veteran who has multiple sclerosis, smokes two marijuana cigarettes a day to help with painful spasms. Since he started using marijuana, he’s down from using 59 pills, including powerful narcotic pain relievers, to just six to help manage his condition.

RELATED: Illinois starts taking marijuana business applications

“I have never, ever, felt better,” said Champion, who helped push for the state to legalize medical marijuana.

Now he’s one of many who can’t wait to buy the marijuana in a brick-and-mortar store.

Bob Morgan, the state’s medical marijuana program coordinator and a lawyer for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said it’s exciting to see such a large number of people apply in one week.

“It’s a strong indication of the interest in the program,” he said.

No technical issues popped up in the surge of applications, which were submitted online, he said.

Now, public health employees will review the applications, along with separately submitted background checks and doctor recommendations, and determine who will receive a card declaring them legal medical marijuana users. Those cards will be needed to buy the product at a dispensary. Cards should be ready in the coming months, Morgan said.

Next week, state officials will begin to accept the business applications — those seeking to grow and sell the medical marijuana. Those can be submitted from Sept. 8 through Sept. 22.

Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L can submit their applications until Oct. 31.

Then patients whose last names begin with the letters M through Z can send in their information Nov. 1 through the end of the year.

Officials hope legal medical marijuana will be available to patients — who suffer from predetermined conditions like ALS, severe fibromyalgia and Tourette’s syndrome — in early 2015.

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