Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Medical marijuana law takes effect in January, but patients will have to wait

By Jamey Dunn

The agencies in charge of licensing medical marijuana dispensaries, patients and growers will not begin accepting application until well into 2014. In the meantime, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is warning patients to avoid scams.

The law creating the state’s medical marijuana pilot program goes into effect on January 1, 2014. But many details still have to go through the rule-making process. A release from the IDFPR said the rules would not be completed until the winter of 2014. Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the department, said her agency would not begin issuing licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries until the rules are in place. The Illinois Department of Public Health, which will license patients, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which will license growers, will also not be able to sign off on any participants until the rule-making process is complete. Hofer said the soonest that could possibly happen would be the summer of 2014, but she said adopting the rules would likely take longer than that. “This is a really complicated thing,” she said, because three state agencies are all integrally involved in the oversight of the three-year pilot program.

The department warns patients to be wary of any clinics or doctors that claim to specialize in medical marijuana. “Unlike some states, Illinois law does not allow for ‘medical cannabis clinics’ or practices that exist solely to offer cannabis certifications,” IDFPR Acting Secretary Manuel Flores said in a written statement. “We want to make sure that patients who would truly benefit from the relief of medical cannabis are not misled and physicians are not violating the law.” IDPH has already filed a complaint against one such clinic in Chicago.

Patients who are ultimately approved for the program are required to have a “bona fide” existing relationship with a doctor who has been treating them for the condition that qualifies them for the program. "There is no specialty in medicine that treats all the various qualifying debilitating medical conditions listed in the act. This means that one physician could not properly treat all patients eligible to use medical cannabis,” said a news release from the department. “Additionally, IDFPR would not consider a physician to be treating a patient for a condition if the only treatment being provided is a written authorization for the used of medical cannabis.” The release said that any doctor or operation that is advertising as a medical marijuana clinic would “immediately” fall under its scrutiny. Patients who obtain cannabis illegally before the program goes into effect run the risk of being disqualified to participate.

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