Fourteen Months Into A Four-Year Pilot Program, Illinois Medical Marijuana Patients Still Aren’t Getting Their Medicine

On August 1, 2013, Illinois’ then-governor Pat Quinn signed legislation making Illinois the 20th state to legalize medicinal marijuana – a four-year pilot program designed to begin on January 1, 2014 and automatically expire on December 31, 2017. Almost a year and a half since the program began, there are still no medical marijuana dispensaries in Illinois, patients still can’t legally get their medicine, and there is no relief in sight.

Even as the ink was drying on Illinois’ medical marijuana legislation, analysts were already calling the program one of the most restrictive in the nation, according to The Weed Blog. Patients have to have one of a limited number of qualifying conditions to qualify for a state-issued license to consume pot; patients have to have an “established relationship” with the doctor who prescribes the marijuana; and cultivators would have to compete for one of only 21 cultivation licenses – one cultivation center in each of Illinois’ 22 State Police districts.

It’s those cultivation licenses – or, the lack thereof – that are creating agonizing delays in getting relief to marijuana patients in Illinois, according to The Chicago Tribune.

During the waning days of the Quinn administration, the Democrat governor issued no cultivation licenses. Things didn’t look hopeful when Republican governor Bruce Rauner arrived in Springfield; however, fed up after months of foot-dragging (or moving cautiously, depending on your point of view), the governor awarded a handful of cultivation licenses.

The process to get a cultivation license is expensive, time-consuming, and shrouded in secrecy. And since it’s Illinois – the fourth-most corrupt state in the country, according to Huffington Post – the possibility of bribes and payoffs can’t be conclusively ruled out, either.

In fact, at least one applicant for a cultivation license – Cresco Labs – allegedly promised to pay some of their revenues to the City of Kankakee; a complaint levied against a handful of other cultivation centers.

Now, a judge has demanded that the State produce all applications for cultivation licenses – a move Attorney General Lisa Madigan opposes – and has halted all further licenses until the matter is sorted out in court.

All of this legal and political wrangling is of little comfort to Marla Levi, a Multiple Sclerosis patient who uses marijuana to treat muscle pains and stiffness – relief that she says she doesn’t get from more conventional medicines. And despite having her approval letter qualifying her as one of approximately 1,600 people approved for medical marijuana in Illinois, she continues to have to purchase her medicine illegally.

“We’re close, but no cigar. It’s just awful.”

Another Illinois medical marijuana patient still waiting for relief is Katelyn Harper, a 23-year-old Chicago woman who suffers from Crohn’s disease, according to Huffington Post.

“We are real people who have real lives, real jobs, friends, family. [Medical marijuana] will not just benefit patients, it’ll benefit all of those people, too.”

Representative Lou Lang, of Skokie in suburban Chicago, is so frustrated by the delays that he’s introduced legislation to extend Illinois’ medical marijuana program to four years after the final cultivation and dispensary licenses are issued.

“The litigation stretches out the process, and in the end hurts patients, so I hope it resolves quickly.”

Lang estimates that medical marijuana will finally, once-and-for-all, be available in Illinois by this summer, nearly two years after the program was signed into law.

[Image courtesy of: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett]