Medical marijuana users push back on McHenry County state's attorney's stance

Lori Fisher of Spring Grove uses medical marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and pain after she survived a head-on collision.

For Fisher, marijuana "is a tool that when used correctly allows you to function appropriately."

Fisher's personal experience with marijuana, along with two other medical marijuana users interviewed by the Northwest Herald, are at odds with the public stance McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally took last week.

Kenneally said there is no proven medical benefit to marijuana use, and he does not want the county's recreational dispensaries telling their customers otherwise. Instead, Kenneally said, there are health risks associated with marijuana use, and state regulatory agencies have not sufficiently warned consumers.

"As such, it has fallen to local government agencies to protect consumers," he said in a statement.

Kenneally also threatened to sue dispensaries if they do not remove references to the medical benefits of marijuana from their marketing and add signage "to warn customers of the mental health dangers associated with use, including psychosis, depression and suicidal ideation."

He has come to an agreement to that end with two of the four marijuana dispensaries in McHenry County, Kenneally said.

The three McHenry County residents with medical marijuana cards disagree with Kenneally's stance. So did state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin, chairwoman of the Illinois General Assembly's Subcommittee on Cannabis.

Illinois began allowing people with qualifying conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes 10 years ago, and legalized recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Since then, marijuana dispensaries have proliferated across the state.

McHenry County currently has four recreational marijuana dispensaries, in Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake, Cary and Richmond. Two more are expected before the end of the year: a second Crystal Lake location and one in McHenry.

Nicole Vaughn of Wonder Lake said she used medical marijuana to treat rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia diagnoses. She also runs a marijuana marketing company and works with the Compassionate Clinics of America to help people receive a medical marijuana card, she said.

Kerri Connor if Ringwood said she used medical marijuana to treat her rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and ankylosing spondylitis, as well as the aftereffects of a 2015 breast cancer diagnosis. She turned to marijuana after 13 years on opiates, she said.

"Just what it does for swelling, how it brings down inflammation ... that is huge," Connor said.

Connor said the drug she was put on to prevent a recurrence of her breast cancer - and the drug given to protect her bone density from that drug - caused her to lose teeth. That has stopped since she began using marijuana.

"Weed helps keep the inflammation down and my teeth in," Connor said.

She's since written books about marijuana and spirituality, including "Wake, Bake and Meditate."

Castro, a Democrat, pointed to Ashley's Law, which allows medical marijuana on school grounds, as an example of the medical use of cannabis. Signed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, the law was named for Ashley Surin of Schaumburg, who uses a CBD oil to treat epilepsy caused by previous cancer treatment.

"To sit there and say there is no medical benefit ... I don't know if (Kenneally) has even asked people how medical cannabis affects them," Castro said.

Much of what is happening with marijuana as a treatment for any condition is experiential, not experimental, said Monika Juszczyk, a Pennsylvania-based doctor who certifies Illinois patients for medical marijuana cards with the Compassionate Clinics of America.

"It comes from people and real-life experience," she said.

Marijuana also is not a panacea for all ills, Juszczyk adds.

"I would never say medical marijuana is the solution for all human suffering," she said.

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