Starting in September, some Illinois residents will be able to apply for a medical marijuana ID card.
Once that happens, doctors and patients will face the challenge of appropriately implementing the drug’s use for medical purposes, which has come about largely because of its popular illegal use for recreation.
In August, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state’s medical marijuana pilot program into law, setting up a 4-year test period with state-run dispensaries and 22 so-called cultivation centers, where the plants will be grown.
So far, 23 states have passed medical marijuana legislation, and Washington and Colorado have decriminalized marijuana for recreational use.
The Illinois law established 30 medical conditions that make patients eligible.
In September, patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L, and their caregivers, can submit applications for ID cards. The rest can apply starting Nov. 1.
Dr. Tim Appenheimer, chief medical officer for KSB Hospital in Dixon, said the politics side of the issue is a little ahead of the clinical side, which has found scientific proof for medicinal usefulness for only a few conditions.
“Some of [the conditions listed in the law] are very specific,” he said. “There are some that are pretty general. Pain issues – in general – almost everyone has some degree of pain.
“The list of diagnosis is a long one. The amount of truly rigorous research is small. So there’s a lot of gray area. So there’s a lot that’s left to the physicians’ clinical judgments.”
CGH Medical Center in Sterling has sent physicians to workshops to learn more about the law and how it will be implemented, President and CEO Paul Steinke said, but the hospital will take a wait-and-see approach.
“Good or bad, this has become a politically charged matter,” he said. “You’ll find people on either side with an opinion on the medical use.”
Steinke said the implementation of medical marijuana reminds him of the implementation of methadone about 15 years ago.
Methadone can be prescribed to treat pain not relieved by non-narcotic pain relievers and to prevent withdrawal symptoms in patients who were addicted to opiate drugs. It also can have effects similar to morphine or heroin.
When it first became legal for medical purposes, any physician could prescribe it. That later was changed to registered physicians only, he said, because of the risks.
Steinke said he hasn’t heard of any CGH patients already asking about getting medical marijuana prescriptions, but said the hospital will do what it can to help patients without creating more problems.
Appenheimer said his patients haven’t asked about it personally but knows patients in the Sauk Valley will be interested in it.
Over time, the pilot program and the issue will be easier for doctors and patients to navigate.
Appenheimer said the medical marijuana pilot program presents bigger challenges to physicians than when other new drugs come on the market because there hasn’t been the U.S. Food and Drug Administration testing.
“It will put the physician in the position of determining if use is legal or illegal,” he said.