By Robert McCoppin
Political leaders agreed Friday to extend Illinois' medical marijuana pilot program to July 2020 and added post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal illness as qualifying conditions.
Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Republican leadership agreed to the extension, according to the bill's Democratic sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, and a Rauner spokesman.
The measure must be considered for a vote by lawmakers, who previously supported legislation establishing the current four-year pilot program, due to expire at the end of 2017.
Lang thanked Rauner and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs for compromising "on improving a program designed to ease the pain and suffering of seriously ill individuals, including children."
In a potentially significant proposed change to the law, doctors will no longer have to "recommend" cannabis, but only certify that there is a bona fide doctor-patient relationship, and that the patient has one of about 40 specified qualifying conditions.
In addition, patient and caregiver authorization cards will be valid for three years, instead of one, and upon their renewal, no repeat fingerprinting will be required for criminal background checks, as it is for initial approval.
Also under the bill, minors who are patients may have two caregivers instead of one, and the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board will be reconstituted, with a new procedure for accepting petitions to add more conditions to the program.
Previously, Rauner had said it was too early to extend the program until it had been sufficiently evaluated.
Tim McGraw, director of the business group Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, and CEO of Revolution Enterprises cultivation center, called the agreement "huge."
"This is a great step in the right direction," he said. "The fact that Republicans and Democrats can agree on something is awesome. They deserve a lot of credit for seeing the light."
Especially significant, McGraw said, is the end of requiring doctors to recommend the drug, which had scared off a lot of doctors afraid of jeopardizing their medical license, since federal law still prohibits physicians from prescribing marijuana.
Lang said he had previously proposed a broader expansion of the program but compromised with the governor to get his support. He said he hopes adding PTSD as a qualifying condition will help veterans and other trauma victims.
The bill would also speed up authorization of new patients with terminal illness whose doctors give them less than six months to live. Their approval time would be shortened from the current six or seven weeks to 14 days.
The bill would put a new medical advisory board more directly under the governor's control, giving the state Department of Public Health director more input over whether to approve any new conditions. So far, the director has rejected every new condition proposed by the advisory board.
(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune