A powerful demonstration, executed by Medical Cannabis Outreach, was held on the steps on the Illinois State Capital on Wednesday January 27, 2015.
Twenty-two body bags representing the number of American veterans who commit suicide every day and several large, transparent bags filled with empty pill bottles symbolizing the prescription drug epidemic in the United States were displayed at the Lincoln Statue of the State Capital while the group hand-delivered a petition to Governor Bruce Rauner’s office.
Caprice Sweatt speaking during the demonstration. (photo credit: Salveo Health & Wellness)
The petition, addressed to Gov. Rauner and Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, is calling for the expansion and extension of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.
“The goal in going to the State House is to demonstrate on behalf of patients, potential patients, and Veterans who are frustrated with the Rauner Administration’s decision not to add any of the 8 new debilitating medical conditions that were recommended by the medical advisory board,”
Caprice Sweatt, Medical Cannabis Outreach CEO, explained to Whaxy.
“We hope by staging this demonstration that the residents of Illinois and the Rauner Administration will understand that it is imperative that these 8 conditions be approved.”
Hundreds of supporters of all ages reportedly joined Medical Cannabis Outreach for the demonstration in Springfield.
Ladies holding signs which read “Grandmas Say ‘Approve the 8!'”
In May of 2015, a panel of health care experts called the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended that eleven conditions be added to the list of those which qualify a patient to register with the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. Gov. Rauner denied the expansion, citing that moving to include new conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and osteoarthritis would “prematurely expand” the program before its success has been evaluated by the state.
The board voted again in October 2015 to add eight conditions, including chronic pain, PTSD, autism and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), to those which qualify for medical cannabis in Illinois. Neither Gov. Rauner nor Dr. Shah have moved to include any of the board’s recommendations.
“I think we have to put our politics and social agendas aside and boil it down to what matters most, which is easing human suffering,”
stated Board chair Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple.
“We bring a high level of education to this table. We ask that our recommendations be taken seriously as the pilot [program] moves very soon into its implementation phase.”
More photos from the “Approve the 8” demonstration calling for eight conditions to be added to those which qualify for medical cannabis in Illinois:
In 2013, Illinois joined the ranks of states throughout the US where the medicinal use of cannabis is legal, and after a two year delay, approved patients may finally have safe, reliable access to medicine before the end of the year. Illinois medical cannabis program officials have announced, to the relief of many patients and families, that for the first time in the state’s history, legal medical sales are expected to begin in the next two weeks.
Final approval has only been given to four dispensaries in the metro Chicago area, but several more are expected to be licensed in the near future. The program’s director, Joseph Wright stated,
“A total of approximately 12 to 15 dispensaries should be registered by the end of November. Eight or 9 of those will be located in the Chicagoland area.”
Anticipating the first day of legal sales, some Illinois-grown cannabis has reportedly already been processed and packaged, but dispensaries are not permitted to sell anything until they have access to the state’s medical cannabis database. Access to the database is required in order for dispensaries to be able to verify each patients’ information and program approval status. Once access is granted, at least a few dispensaries will be ready to begin sales immediately.
Many of the medical cannabis patients in Illinois are expected to be inexperienced when it comes to using the plant, and because cannabis affects every person differently, many may have to go through a trial-and-error period before finding the best strains, amounts and methods of consumption to treat their condition. In an effort to reduce the trial-and-error period for patients and to share important information, one medical cannabis company in Illinois — Cresco Labs — has launched a $1 million campaign to help educate patients and non-patients alike.
While excitement levels are at an all-time high for medical cannabis patients and activists, there is also a darker underlying issue to be faced in Illinois. By the time medical cannabis is legally available for purchase, Illinois will be about halfway through the initial four-year pilot program. If Gov. Bruce Rauner does not reauthorize the Illinois cannabis program in 2017, it will expire and cease to exist. Earlier this year, Gov. Rauner vetoed expanding the program to include 11 more conditions.
The medical marijuana program has not yet been able to get off the ground in Illinois after former Governor Pat Quinn failed to meet the end-of-the-year deadline for awarding producer and retailer licenses to applicants. The program was in limbo for some time, as it was unclear whether the new Governor, Bruce Rauner, would move forward with the permitting process.
More than 14,000 patients had already applied to the registry and 1,000 of those patients had already been approved. Without licensing growers and dispensaries, these registered patients do not have safe, reliable access to medicine. At the beginning of February, however, the state began issuing medical marijuana licenses to producers and retailers. Two licenses have been awarded so far.
Still, these hiccups in the establishment of the medical marijuana program have not halted the drive for marijuana policy reform in The Prairie State. One lawmaker aims to legalize the recreational possession and cultivation for adults 21 years of age and older. Senator Michael Noland filed Senate Bill 0753 on February 3.
This proposal would allow adults to possess up to 30 grams, which is just over 1 ounce, of cannabis for recreational purposes. This legislation would also allow for up to 5 marijuana plants to be cultivated at home.
Dan Linn, the executive director of Illinois’s branch of NORML, pointed out that this is a huge step for lawmakers, as it has been nearly 40 years since legalization was last addressed.
“This is the first bill that would remove all criminal penalties for small amounts of cannabis and cannabis plants. The last bill that was introduced like this was in the 1970’s.”
Although many states have been predicted to pass legalization amendments in 2016 and 2020, Illinois has not been near the top of those lists. Even if the legislation does not pass this time around, it is a step to encourage politicians and voters alike to begin thinking about legalization and discussing all possible outcomes. Illinois lawmakers do have the unique opportunity to become the first legislature to pass a recreational legalization amendment because of this proposal.
Legislators in Connecticut, New Mexico and Vermont are also in similar situations this session. The New Mexico Senate actually just passed their state’s recreational legalization amendment on to the House for another vote.
It will be interesting to see if any of these states make history in 2015 as the first legislative body to approve a recreational marijuana legalization proposal.
photo credit: weed portal