CHICAGO (AP) – Dozens of conditions and diseases can qualify a patient to use medical marijuana in Illinois’ new pilot program, but the list doesn’t include post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis or migraines conditions some other states allow.
This week, Illinois began accepting petitions from people who want to expand the list. Michael Montel, 30, of the southern Illinois village of Crainville, wants his disabling condition added: a liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Cannabis eases his joint pain and increases his appetite, he said.
He doesn’t like the side effects of the opiate painkillers he’s been prescribed. They are “short-lasting, if they’re effective at all, and they’re expensive. You don’t have as much control over the dose,” Montel said. With marijuana, “you can have half a puff, or a puff, and self-administer in relation to your pain level.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. California allows doctors to recommend it for a broad range of conditions, including arthritis, migraines and “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief,” according to the language of the 1996 ballot initiative that made the state the first to allow medical marijuana.
Illinois is far more restrictive and is “one of the most heavily regulated medical marijuana states,” said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that supports legally regulated marijuana. The Illinois law lists dozens of conditions and diseases that can qualify a patient to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s signature, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.
Illinois also includes rheumatoid arthritis, but not the more common osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated one-third of people age 65 and older. It doesn’t include psoriatic arthritis, which 41-year-old Mark Schrull would like to see added, or ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis of the spine. He’s diagnosed with both painful conditions.
When he lived in California, Schrull used medical marijuana legally. Now living in Vandalia in central Illinois, he wants to get away from what he calls the “vicious cycle” of prescription painkillers. “For me, it’s very personal and very serious,” he said. “I think I’ve suffered long enough.”
Eleven states specifically list PTSD as a qualifying condition, Lindsey said. “That’s the up-and-comer right now,” he said, along with seizures, which Illinois lawmakers recently added.
The Marijuana Policy Project advocates for PTSD’s inclusion in states where individuals have asked for support. But the group hasn’t put any energy behind insomnia, Lindsey said, because it prompts skeptical eye-rolling. “It’s a serious condition, but if we go down that road, the response is, ‘Oh yeah. Right.”’
The Illinois Department of Public Health is accepting petitions through the end of February and an advisory board will review them and hold public hearings. A blank petition, posted on the state’s medical cannabis website, encourages petitioners to attach supporting medical evidence. Petitions will be accepted twice a year. The next petition period will be in July.
Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t appointed the advisory board that will review petitions and hold hearings. If Quinn is going to make appointments, he will need to do so before Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes office Monday. Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the health department, said Tuesday she had no update on the timing of advisory board appointments.
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