CHICAGO – To use medical marijuana in Illinois, patients would be fingerprinted, undergo a background check and pay $150 a year to get a special photo ID under proposed regulations unveiled Tuesday.
In the first attempt to sort out the complicated logistics of launching a medical cannabis program, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted 48 pages of draft regulations online. The department also is opening an informal public comment period before submitting the proposal officially to the state when more comments will be accepted. The department shared the draft regulations ahead of time with The Associated Press.
A new state law legalized medical marijuana in a four-year pilot project with some of the strictest standards in the nation. The draft rules for patients and their caregivers start to clarify how the system would work.
"We're really excited about a really transparent process. It's quite unprecedented for us to go through these steps," Bob Morgan, coordinator of the state's medical cannabis program, told the AP. The law gave the department until the end of April to write regulations, but the department is posting rules early to allow time for public comment, Morgan said.
One supporter of the new law said patients are eager to see how the process will work.
"Until patients actually get that physical card, we're still at risk," said Julie Falco, of Chicago, who speaks openly about how she has used cannabis to control her pain from multiple sclerosis. "If we're still getting our medicine from other sources, until we get that card, we will still be illegal."
Rules for dispensaries and cultivation centers still are being drafted by other Illinois agencies.
The proposed regulations released Tuesday detail who can apply for a medical marijuana photo ID card and when they can apply. They also require fingerprinting and spell out the costs to patients. The regulations detail how the state might add new medical conditions to the current list of more than 30 conditions qualifying a patient to use cannabis.
The proposed rules specify that a bona fide physician-patient relationship must go beyond a simple recommendation for medical cannabis or a consultation for that purpose. They list records that must be maintained by doctors and they allow the department to inspect cultivation centers.
Jim Champion, an Illinois veteran from Somonauk who has multiple sclerosis, plans to apply for a medical marijuana card. He said he's concerned about a part of the proposal that seems to prevent people from legally holding a medical marijuana card while also having a firearm owners ID card or concealed carry permit. He owns a gun given to him by his father and doesn't want to give it up.
"I kind of feel like they're stomping on my constitutional rights," Champion said.
The proposed fees also came under scrutiny from medical marijuana supporters.
Under the proposal, patients would pay $150 a year to apply for a medical marijuana registry identification card. They also would pay for their own fingerprinting for an Illinois State Police background check and would need to use a licensed vendor of an inkless electronic fingerprinting system. Such fingerprinting costs $30 to $60, depending on the vendor.
Patients receiving Social Security disability income could pay a lower fee of $75 a year.
Caregivers of qualified patients could also apply for a card for $125 a year. Caregivers with cards could obtain marijuana from a licensed dispensary on behalf of a patient.
The health department set fees that fall within the range of other states, department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. New Jersey and Oregon charge $200. Arizona's patient fee is $150. Other states have lower fees. The fees are expected to cover the department's administrative costs, Morgan said, but the department hasn't made an estimate of those costs.
Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington said the $150 annual fee for patients is burdensome "because costs are not covered by health insurance." He said states such as Michigan charge less and generate big surpluses.
But Lindsey applauded Illinois for proposing a nine-member advisory board to review petitions for adding medical conditions to the list approved for marijuana. The board would include a patient advocate and eight health professionals in the fields of neurology, pain management, cancer, psychiatry, infectious disease, family medicine, medical ethics and pharmacy. Members would be appointed by the governor.
State officials expect a flood of applications, perhaps "tens of thousands of patients over time," Morgan said. The state's medical marijuana program website has received more than 12,000 unique visitors and more than 2,000 people have signed up for email notifications about the program.
Based on the first-year experience in other states, officials decided to allow patients to apply in two waves based on the first initial of their last names to manage the expected surge, Morgan said. The first applications will be on paper, rather than online. An electronic application process could be set up in the future, he said.
This year, patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L could submit an application in September or October. Patients whose last names begin with M through Z could submit an application in November or December.
Starting in 2015, applications will be accepted year round, regardless of last name.
The law bars anyone convicted of a drug felony from getting a medical marijuana card. But the suggested regulations give the department some leeway to approve a card if the patient's conviction involved obtaining marijuana for medical purposes that would be legal under the new law.
Patients receiving treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals will have a somewhat easier time getting a medical marijuana card. VA doctors, as federal employees, aren't permitted to recommend controlled substances. The draft rules spell out that veterans getting VA care won't need a doctor to sign off on their application.