By Robert McCoppin
Illinois will not expand the list of conditions that qualifies people to get medical marijuana, Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration announced Friday.
The announcement came despite pleas from patient advocates and medical marijuana business owners who say they need more patients to make the industry viable in the state. So far, only about 4,000 people have been approved to use the drug, far below early estimates.
The decision was announced by the Illinois Department of Public Health's director, Dr. Nirav Shah.
Melaney Arnold, department spokeswoman, said the program "remains in its early stage."
"As patients have just started purchasing medical cannabis, the State has not had the opportunity to evaluate the benefits and costs of the pilot program or determine areas for improvement or even whether to extend the program beyond its pilot period," she said in an email. "At this time, it is premature to expand the pilot program before there is the ability to evaluate it under the current statutory requirements."
The move went against the state's own Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which had recommended that eight conditions -- including autism, irritable bowel syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder, osteoarthritis and several pain-related conditions -- be added to the list of about 40 ailments that can qualify people for medical marijuana.
Advocates had said they had delivered about 25,000 signatures on a petition this week asking the governor to expand access.
And just this week, former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon touted medical marijuana as a "godsend" that helped him stop using the prescription painkiller Percocet.
The first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Illinois in November.
Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, chairwoman of the state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, said she was "reeling" from the decision.
"I'm deeply disappointed," she said. "But I'm not surprised. The governor's office hasn't shown much support for this pilot program, and it shows in this blanket rejection again."
Mendoza Temple hopes to get more feedback as to why the conditions were rejected. She remained optimistic that the governor will reconsider after the board makes recommendations at its next meeting in May.
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