Let’s put Illinois’ new medical marijuana law, Public Act 098-0122, under the microscope from the viewpoint of patients. I didn’t choose to suffer from what afflicts me or the absolute fact that marijuana is the best, most effective, and safest medication for my condition, with a clear accounting for why it works found in the medical and scientific literature. The goals of the legislation seem conflicted, treating patients as “pre-criminals,” implicitly dismissive of the basic rights of all to receive appropriate healthcare. Illinois lawmakers apparently believe medical use of cannabis is a privilege, not a right.
In the law’s language, there seems to be no defined provision for ordinary patients to have input into this system, at odds with the way it is now recognized health care should be delivered. The patient should be involved for their own good. The best opportunity for that passed when any provision for homegrow was deleted. This is Illinois, so commonsense is illegal and in as short supply as decent medical-grade weed, but keep that goal in mind for the future.
The preamble of findings is nice, but ultimately superseded by the stern and bitter tone of the rest of the document. One bright spot is right up front, where an “adequate supply” is defined as up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks. However, one also may not possess an aggregate of more than 2.5 ounces at any time. That may sound like a lot, especially for prosecutors used to fluffing up a few grams of weed into “possession with intent to deliver,” but it’s not. Those with severe pain or other symptoms rarely smoke that much, but some could. What this allows is ingestion, or taking cannabis internally. This benefits many patients, but requires a considerably larger amount of weed to be effective.
Being able to afford 2.5 ounces of weed depends on one’s financial health, as no insurance company offers a policy to cover medicinal marijuana costs. The patient bears the full costs of treatment with marijuana. This is a consideration if you’re currently getting by with marinol, which is paid for under most insurance plans, and are considering switching to more effective marijuana.
The list of more than thirty “debilitating medical conditions” is expansive, from the common uses for cancer to more rare and unusual nerve and spinal conditions where the ability of cannabis to cross the blood-brain barrier makes it uniquely effective. There is a provision for adding conditions to the original group. Notably missing is PTSD, as the price of passage of the bill was apparently the obsession of some legislators with preventing access to cannabis for veterans.
Applicants must have an ongoing relationship with a single doctor. A background check is required of both patient and doctor. The applicant will hear within 30 days whether they are accepted or rejected. One caregiver aide may be registered to help a single patient, a burdensome restriction to the rotating staff of many nursing services. The caregiver must apply for and pass a set of requirements as onerous as the patient’s. The background checks require a full set of fingerprints run through the FBI database. Supposedly, the reason for the check won’t be disclosed and the prints destroyed after the check is verified and complete. If you are denied a registry card, you can sue in court over the decision.
If you have ever been convicted of a felony drug crime in Illinois or elsewhere, you are not eligible. It appears on the face of it that those whose records are cleared under first-time offender provisions would still be eligible, given this supposedly means no record of conviction is entered, although there is nothing in plain language clarifying that point.
The Department of Public Health will maintain a supposedly “confidential registry” of authorized patients. How confidential remains an open question, as this will be forwarded to the Secretary of State’s office, where it will be noted on each patient’s driver’s license file. Given the wide access available to users of this system, it is highly questionable real confidentiality can be achieved.
It would seem to make sense that if someone were using a medication as authorized, there is no need for that info to be available unless one was assessed as impaired and arrested. For it to simply be available at any traffic stop with other driver’s license information draws targets on the heads of patients for over-aggressive law enforcement and adds nothing to public safety. No one requires those using alcohol, prescription drugs, or possessing cell phones, all known to cause greater levels of driving impairment than cannabis, to have their driver’s records marked.
There is one somewhat hopeful provision for drivers, if you were so unfortunate as to submit to testing and be found to have some level of cannabis metabolite in your system, which would ordinarily result in automatic conviction. Section 11-501 carves out an exception.
Subject to all other requirements and provisions under this Section, this paragraph (6) does not apply to the lawful consumption of cannabis by a qualifying patient licensed under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act who is in possession of a valid registry card issued under that Act, unless that person is impaired by the use of cannabis.
Furthermore, on testing under suspicion of impaired driving:
The person’s status as a registry card holder alone is not a sufficient basis for conducting these tests. The officer must have an independent, cannabis-related factual basis giving reasonable suspicion that the person is driving under the influence of cannabis for conducting standardized field sobriety tests. This independent basis of suspicion shall be listed on the standardized field sobriety test results and any influence reports made by the arresting officer
And there is a big problem. Officers are great at making up probable cause, especially if you tell them they need a “cannabis-related factual basis” right after they are basically informed it might be worth paying extra attention to that, rather than simply allowing them to approach that person with the same open mind as anyone else.
There is some limited protection against private or educational institution discrimination against medical marijuana users. They cannot refuse enrollment or rental to you solely because of your card status. They can prohibit any use of medical marijuana on their property, however. One may not operate a school bus or hold a Commercial Driver’s License and hold a medical marijuana card. There is the usual variety of prohibitions against a variety of things you could assume get you in trouble, like selling or sharing your supply with others.
One FindLaw blog noted that, “The new Illinois law also purports to offer protections for employees who are discriminated against based on their medical marijuana patient status….” Any protections in employment are very troublesome, granting broad powers to employers to regulate their employees’ medical use. They may prohibit any use whatsoever and then essentially fire you just for being a registered MMJ patient if you then proceed to use and fail a drug test, if the employer so chooses.
There is one concession for access to MMJ for low income residents, as administrators are permitted to establish a sliding scale for application and renewal fees according to income, but nothing else.
This act is a politician-centered law to regulate what should be patient-centered care. You don’t become a cannabis patient because the state of Illinois says so. That’s determined by your affliction. Just like any disease or syndrome, its nature dictates whether or not cannabis will help you. Given the stone wall the legislature built around medical care with cannabis, it remains to be seen how many patients it will assist. There’s the distinct possibility that thousands of otherwise qualified patients will be excluded by one or more of the bad provisions in this law―or simply find it too complex to comply.
The text of Public Act 098-0122, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act is available at: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/98/098-0122.htm
Luke Redman is a 25+ year medical marijuana patient and activist who hopes Illinois can establish a viable program to serve his needs and others, but is prepared to be disappointed.