HLG Larry blog

Illinois Opens Access To Medical Cannabis Program For Opioid Users And Removes Other Hurdles To Admission For Patients

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has turned a new leaf when it comes to the cannabis industry in Illinois. Coming close on the heels of his recent approval of new legislation permitting the cultivation and processing of hemp in Illinois, on August 28, 2018, Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 336, the Illinois Alternative To Opioids Act.

Significantly, this new Act allows physicians to directly authorize access to the state’s medical cannabis market for any patient currently on an opioid prescription or who would qualify for such a prescription. This authority bypasses the State’s established protocol for admitting patients to the medical cannabis program – no application to the State’s Department of Public Health as otherwise mandated by the medical cannabis program is required - thereby providing a patient with immediate access to cannabis products for up to 90 days.  The physician can renew the authorization as needed.

Notwithstanding Gov. Rauner’s well documented opposition to the state’s medical cannabis program, he signed the new Act citing the 2000 plus Illinois citizens who died from opioid prescriptions in 2016, as well as the estimated 72,000 opioid fatalities nationwide that year.  In 2017, Illinois physicians wrote over 6 million opioid prescriptions for the state’s residents. Illinois physicians applauded the move as one that they hope will prevent opioid overdoses by providing a safer alternative for pain management.

While that action alone would be enough to satisfy the proponents of the Illinois medical cannabis program which is among the most restrictive in the country with only 42,000 authorized patients after four years of open enrollment, the Act goes even further in terms of expanding patient access to medical cannabis.  First, patient applicants no longer have to submit fingerprints to allow the State to perform criminal background checks in search of disqualifying convictions. This is a significant move as over 600 patient applications were denied by the state in 2017, many resulting from failed background checks.

In addition, the need to provide fingerprints for background checks has been very unpopular resulting in an unknown number of otherwise qualified patients deciding against applying for their patient card.  For many patients living in neighborhoods subject to greater police presence and enforcement, the fingerprint requirement was viewed with open skepticism as a means for the police to more easily locate and arrest those who participated in the program.

Second, the Act now provides a provisional registration for those patients who apply on-line with their physician’s authorization.  As a result, new enrollees will be able to immediately purchase medical cannabis while waiting for the Department of Public Health to review and respond to their applications, a process that in many cases has taken as long as nine months.

Needless to say, the Act is a real shot in the arm for Illinois cultivation center and dispensary licensees, many of whom have struggled financially due to the state’s low patient count.  It also serves as a hopeful sign for many that Illinois, even with Gov. Rauner still in office, is committed to the safety and comfort of its patients and therefore, to the survival and ultimate success of the medical cannabis program itself.  

Larry is Counsel to Hoban Law Group and a partner in the Northbrook, Illinois law firm of Silver & Mishkin which represents entrepreneurs and small to mid-size businesses. A lawyer for 28 years, Larry has traditionally focused his practice on assisting his clients in state and federal litigation, appellate and administrative matters including alternative dispute resolution options (arbitration and mediation) when appropriate. He can be reached at larry@hoban.law.