As the rules for a state medical marijuana pilot program are being finalized, a group of proponents has announced that a cannabis conference will be held in Chicago in June.
A handful of people — including a doctor, a consultant and the vice president of a nonprofit — are trying to improve the drug’s image and increase awareness of its medical benefits with the hope that the four-year pilot program expands in scope and duration.
“Don’t be shy. It’s OK to talk about marijuana — cannabis,” Amish Parikh, vice president of My Compassion, the Michigan-based nonprofit that is hosting the June 7-8 conference at Navy Pier, said Thursday. “If you respect the law, the law will stay. We’re trying to teach that as well.”
The Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Act went into effect January. But the timing for when patients will actually start using the drug is uncertain, according to Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“We are hoping by the first part of next year the program will be up and running,” Arnold said.
The latest draft proposal of the rules governing medical marijuana was filed in April and is currently in a 45-day public comment period. About two dozen people showed up to a public hearing in Springfield on Wednesday, Arnold said. A final approval by the legislative body will probably not be completed until around early August, at which point Illinois residents will be able to begin applying to use the drug.
Supporters like Parikh hope that patients will be able to collect from the 60 statewide retail stores allowed under the law by January. The pilot program also allows for 21 cultivation centers in Illinois. Under the act, doctors would be able to prescribe marijuana for about 40 medical conditions, Melaney said.
The Illinois law is more restrictive than in other states where the drug is legalized, according to Patty Schuler, a certified nurse and a mother who is eager to replace some of the 45 synthetic medications that she said her daughter with cerebral palsy and epilepsy uses.
“Illinois does not want to follow the lead of California because California has the reputation that it’s free — anybody can get a card, become a patient and go to the next corner to buy cannabis,” Schuler said. “It wants to stay within the boundaries of the law and wants to make sure that doctors are actually doing the work, making recommendations for patients and following up with that patient.”
Since the law passed in Illinois, Schuler said, she has become a consultant who wants to educate potential patients and hopes that the 40 medical conditions that can be treated with cannabis under the current pilot program expands to the more than 600 medical conditions she believes the drug can treat.
“I am going to make sure it grows,” Schuler said of the pilot program.
People can petition to add their medical conditions to the list, and those petitions will be considered twice per year in January and July, Arnold added.
Dr. Hernon Toney, a physician at Christ Hospital, said there is also a need for education in the medical field. He believes many of the benefits of cannabis have been suppressed by pharmaceutical companies, but that the medical community needs to embrace this new law.
“I think a lot of times the medical community shies away from it when you say ‘medicinal marijuana.’ They say, ‘Oh you’re going to smoke it?’ No that’s not it,” Toney said. “But I know the medical benefits of it.”
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