On August 28, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law a measure that could dramatically expand access to medical marijuana in the State of Illinois by making marijuana available as an opioid painkiller replacement.[1]    The new law would allow doctors to authorize medical marijuana for any patient who has or would qualify for prescription opioids like OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin.[2] This new law is also noteworthy in terms of removing strict provisions to the previous medical marijuana law requiring applicants to be fingerprinted and undergo criminal background checks.  While it will take the State until December 1, 2018, to implement all the new program rules related to opioid replacement, the elimination of background checks and fingerprinting for applicants will go into effect immediately.[3]

Illinois previously had some of the strictest limitations in terms of what medical conditions fall under qualifying conditions of States that allow access to medical marijuana.  Of those states, Illinois falls in the minority as most have some form of intractable, or chronic, pain included as a qualifying condition.  Under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, the State of Illinois lists approximately 40 qualifying conditions including conditions such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.[4]  And while a condition like rheumatoid arthritis qualifies under Illinois law, osteoarthritis is not.

The current medical marijuana program expires in 2020, but HB4276 – or the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act which allows marijuana to be used recreationally and be regulated similar to alcohol – is currently pending.  Governor Rauner has opposed the bill in the past, but his 2018 challenger, J.B. Pritzker, has fully supported the measure.  The signing of this bill into law by Rauner could be seen as a way to boost his image in the polls going into November as he has been historically opposed to expanding the medical marijuana program in Illinois in the past.

In January of this year, Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell ordered the Illinois Department of Public Heath to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.[5]  Ms. Mednick’s lawsuit arose out of her inability to have access to medical marijuana to treat her osteoarthritis rather than opioid pills.[6]  The Illinois Department of Public Heath has appealed Judge Mitchell’s ruling, but a decision has not been made at this time.

Medical and recreational marijuana regulations continue to be an exciting and complex area of legislation in Illinois, and across the country.  With a wide variety of legal issues and significant economic impact, this issue is unlikely to be completely resolved anytime soon.

 

 

[1] See McCoppin, Robert. “Rauner Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Allowing Drug as Painkiller Alternative.” Chicago Tribune 28 Aug. 2018.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] 410 ILCS 130/10(h)(1)

[5] See Mednick, Ann v. Ill. Dept. of Public Heal., 2017-CH-6032; see also McCoppin, Robert. “Judge orders Illinois to expand medical marijuana qualifying conditions to include pain.” Chicago Tribune 17 Jan. 2018.

[6] Id.