Medical-marijuana supporters on Tuesday questioned some of the draft rules released this week as the state prepares to roll out a pilot program to allow people suffering from cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions to buy cannabis in Illinois.
Among the proposed rules: a requirement for applicants to undergo a background check and a $150 annual fee for a marijuana registry card.
State officials have had ample time to review the legislation and prepare; Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill in August 2013, said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of NORML, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.
"It's important to have access to medicine as soon as possible. To have to wait ... a year, it seems cruel and inhumane in a lot of ways," Linn said.
Linn said he understands that the program must pay for itself and state agencies will require additional staffing to process applications, but "$150 for sick people seems a little unreasonable."
Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, was shocked at the $150 price tag for obtaining a registry card and the requirement to undergo a background check.
With requirements like background checks, "it's treating the patient like they're potentially a criminal, which is outrageous," Lennhoff said.
Illinois' medical marijuana program is among the strictest in the country, and the regulations seem to be more about creating barriers than access, she said.
"I really hope that the policymakers coming up with the rules remember this is meant to be available as a medicine to help people who need it and physicians who know to prescribe it. There shouldn't be a bunch of barriers between medicines and patients," Lennhoff said.
The state also proposed creating a medical cannabis advisory board. The nine-member board would include a patient advocate and eight medical professionals, as currently proposed. Linn suggested the board could be more balanced and include more patients.
A copy of the draft rules can be found at http://www.idph.state.il.us/HealthWellness/MedicalCannabis/index.htm
Illinois Department of Public Health officials said they welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can be emailed to DPH.MedicalCannabis@illinois.gov or mailed to the Division of Medical Cannabis, Illinois Department of Public Health, 535 W. Jefferson St., Springfield, IL 62761. The department has asked for comments to be submitted by Friday, Feb. 14.
Highlights of proposed medical marijuana registration
The state's public health department has until the end of April to finalize the rules. But with Illinois' medical-marijuana pilot program set to launch later this year, officials on Tuesday posted the list of proposed regulations for getting a medical marijuana registry identification card. The highlights:
— Patients would pay $150 a year to apply for a card. The fee would be cut in half for those receiving Social Security disability.
— Patients would be required to pay for their own fingerprinting for an Illinois State Police background check, using a licensed vendor of an inkless electronic system. Costs range from $30 to $60.
— In 2014, 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 theirs in November or December. Starting in 2015, applications will be accepted year-round, regardless of last name.
— No one convicted of a drug felony would be allowed to have a card, although there may be leeway if the conviction involved obtaining marijuana for medical purposes that would be legal under the new law.
— Patients would need to be diagnosed by a physician with one of more than 30 medical conditions.
— Military veterans getting VA care would not need a doctor to sign off on their applications.