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updated: 9/29/2017 7:23 AM

Clearing the Air: Myths and Truths about Medical Cannabis in Illinois

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  • Mitch Meyers and Kim Kaskel, an outreach specialist at Nature's Care, are pictured at the 4th annual Midwest Pain Treatment Education Expo held August 12, 2017, at the Northbrook Hilton. Meyers, an investor at Nature's Care, was a guest speaker and spoke about using medical cannabis as a pain treatment option.

    Mitch Meyers and Kim Kaskel, an outreach specialist at Nature's Care, are pictured at the 4th annual Midwest Pain Treatment Education Expo held August 12, 2017, at the Northbrook Hilton. Meyers, an investor at Nature's Care, was a guest speaker and spoke about using medical cannabis as a pain treatment option.

 
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Illinois became the 20th state in the nation to legalize medical cannabis (also known as medical marijuana) on August 1, 2013, when former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act into law. The measure gained support with the goal to assist Illinois residents who suffer from debilitating medical conditions that medical cannabis has been approved to treat.

The law went into effect January 1, 2014, as a four-year pilot program, and dispensaries began operating in November of 2015. Growth has been relatively slow due to strict regulations, a limited number of approved medical conditions and the stigma that exists around marijuana for some individuals -- even though medical cannabis has been legal for more than three years in Illinois. The availability and willingness of doctors to certify medical conditions has also created some hurdles, though they are not insurmountable.

Nature's Care Company, at 975 Rohwling Road, in Rolling Meadows, opened its doors on February 18, 2016. Jake Coward is the facility's director of operations, and is working with his team to spread awareness about the dispensary, and the benefits that medical cannabis offers to patients. He acknowledges that the process currently in place, could be improved.

"People need quicker and better access; there are only a handful of doctors willing to put their credentials on a form to simply verify a patient has an approved condition. They are not required to prescribe medical cannabis," Coward says. "Combine that with the fingerprinting process, and patients are not getting a streamlined alternative healthcare solution for one of the state-approved medical conditions."

Nature's Care representatives attend local Farmers' Markets to provide information and answer questions about the medical cannabis program, in addition to sponsoring outreach programs open to the public. These include free, monthly seminars that provide educational presentations and help patients who need assistance applying for the medical cannabis card through the State of Illinois.

Below are some of the myths about medical cannabis:

Patients can purchase as much cannabis as they want: Illinois medical cannabis patients can purchase from a dispensary of their choice, but first must register and be approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Patients who are issued a state identification card are permitted to purchase 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every two-week period at one of the dispensaries in the state; home cultivation is not permitted.

Doctors won't diagnose or prescribe medical cannabis for my condition. Individuals diagnosed with at least one qualifying condition are eligible to apply for a medical cannabis card, but they must first receive written certification of the condition by a medical doctor in Illinois. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois (MCAI), mca-il.com/physicians-illinois-cannabis/, contains information about the program and application process. The MCAI is made up of representatives from cultivators and dispensing organizations in Illinois that advocate for the industry and work with lobbyists and politicians to protect the program and its progress. For additional resource information on medical doctors who are knowledgeable about the medical cannabis program, and have confirmed medical conditions for state identification card holders, visit ilcannabismd.com.

The Illinois Medical Cannabis Program doesn't cover many medical conditions. When the program launched in Illinois, 39 conditions made the cut. Seizures were later added, including those related to epilepsy, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder, and terminal patients with a prognosis of less than six months to live. These most recent additions brought the list to 41 qualifying conditions. For a full list of the approved conditions, visit dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/prevention-wellness/medical-cannabis/debilitating-conditions. Individuals diagnosed with at least one qualifying condition are eligible to apply for a card.

The application process is too difficult or expensive. Patients can visit mca-il.com/patients-illinois-cannabis for a detailed explanation on how to apply for the program. An online portal is available to complete the application, which outlines the pricing for one, two and three-year registrations which range from $100 to $250. Information is also available on discounted registrations for applicants who are veterans, or are on supplemental/disability income. If a veteran is receiving treatment through a Veteran's Affairs (VA) hospital, they are eligible to waive the written doctor's certification and submit their patient records as supplemental documentation. Regardless of what stage in the process the patient is at, a representative at Nature's Care will assist with the application process and answer any questions they may have.

For more information about Nature's Care, call 847-754-4955, email info@naturescarecompany.com or visit naturescarecompany.com.

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