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Illinois’ Medical Marijuana Program Is Now Permanent, Expanded

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, flanked by supporters and legislators, signs a law expanding school children's ability to use medical marijuana at school. The governor approved expansions to the Medical Marijuana program on Aug. 9.

Illinois’ medical marijuana program is getting a second wind. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a pair of bills on Monday expanding who can get a medical card, and when they can use it.Sam Dunklau reports.

The program was initially limited to just six years, but is now permanent. When the law was first signed in 2013, state lawmakers made it a “pilot,” in order to test the concept and work out any bugs. But now that recreational marijuana will be legal in January, sponsors say it makes sense to permanently allow medical sales too.

State Senator Laura Fine, a Glenview Democrat, is one of them. Her husband had his arm amputated, and manages his pain with medical cannabis.

​“He doesn’t have to hide in the basement on a day when he’s in pain” she explained. “He can be acting with our children, going about his daily life, and not having the severe pain that he usually suffers.”

People who suffer from any one of at least 11 new conditions now qualify for a medical card. Though Illinois is ramping up licensing and regulation efforts ahead of recreational weed’s legal debut in January, Rep. Bob Morgan (D, Deerfield) stressed the state is keeping medical cardholders in mind.

“Patients can rest assured: the medical cannabis program and patients will remain a priority for all of us,” he said. “We will not turn our backs on the patient population, even as legalization dominates the news in 2020.”

Pritzker says former Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration “stood in the way” of the medical marijuana program.

Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, tasked with recommending what new conditions could qualify for a medical marijuana prescription, disbanded in 2016 after the state rejected nearly all of its findings. Governor Rauner reportedly made a deal with board members: in exchange for adding a few new conditions, the board had to dissolve.

“Ignoring the guidance of medical professionals fails patients who live with debilitating conditions,” Pritzker said.

The governor also signed a related bill on Monday. School children who are registered under the medical cannabis program will also be able to take it at school themselves under supervision of a school nurse or administrator. A parent will have to OK the move first.

Illinois allowed kids to start using medical marijuana at school last year. That bill, nicknamed ‘Ashley’s Law,’ was named for Ashley Surin, who uses cannabis oil to control her seizure condition.

Her mother, Maureen Surin, was at Monday’s bill signing. She explained her once her daughter’s doctors prescribed medical marijuana for her seizures, they stopped.

“They were right, and our daughter is now living and not just surviving,” Surin said amid tears.

Patients will also be allowed to grow up to five plants at home starting in January, so long as the plants are out of public view and under lock and key. Opponents say that provision needs to be changed, while Pritzker and others say trailer legislation is already in the works.

Copyright 2019 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.
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