A Long History
The first state to decriminalize cannabis was Oregon back in 1978. What few people know is Illinois put a similar law on the books that same year that legalized medical cannabis. It allowed doctors to prescribe the drug to treat glaucoma, the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment therapy, and other serious conditions. Trouble is, discretion was left up to the state’s Human Services Department and had to be signed off on by the Illinois State Police. Since each department was waiting for a set of rules from the other, no traction was made.
In August 2013, then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. This allowed for the cultivation, distribution, and sale of medical cannabis to certified, card-carrying patients with a qualifying condition. Today, a patient must apply to the Illinois Department of Health for a medical card within 90 days of receiving a certification from a licensed, practicing physician. A one year card costs $100 and a three year one is $350.
Illinois has some of the strictest medical cannabis laws in the nation. You have to prove state residency, your age, and identity, and undergo fingerprinting and a background check. Patients who have a doctor’s recommendation can register for a card online. They may receive a temporary receipt to purchase cannabis at a dispensary while their card is being processed.
What’s Happened Since 2013?
The state began accepting applications from cultivators, dispensary owners, and patients in September of 2014. But the program wasn’t in full swing until 2015. In 2016, then Gov. Quinn extended the law until 2020. Despite this, the state has garnered $20 million in sales since the program began in earnest.
In 2016, then Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis. Possession of up to 10 grams will today result in a fine rather than a criminal charge. In the last gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker promised to legalize recreational cannabis. Pritzker said legalization could bring in $350-700 million in annual tax revenue, although those numbers have been questioned. He also said he’d commute the sentences of Illinoisans convicted of cannabis-related crimes. Now, Governor Pritzker is struggling to get a deal to legalize cannabis. This is still an ongoing drama for the state.
Illinois has a total of 41 qualifying conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, severe fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s. In August 2018, former Gov. Rauner signed a law granting opioid patients access to medical cannabis, in hopes of trying to tamp down the state’s opioid epidemic. Some analysts say this provides an opportunity to further liberalize the program. Approximately 40,000 patients have signed up to receive medical cannabis so far. Currently, eight lawsuits are pending to extend the list of qualifying conditions.
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