On Monday, 2nd May, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board once again held a meeting to urge the Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner into accepting their proposed medical marijuana expansion plan. The board wants Rauner’s administration to accept Type 1 diabetes and panic disorder into the list of medical conditions which can be treated legally with medical marijuana.

The advisory board met in Springfield and all the members voted in favor of the additions. The board again endorsed that 10 other medical conditions should be added to the ‘Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act’. The conditions had already been approved by the board last year and are being recommended to the Illinois administration once again. The meeting was also the third time the advisory board recommended the addition of osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list.

The ‘Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program’ that started in 2013 but fully launched in 2015 is a four-year pilot project, and is believed to be one of the strictest plans in the nation. Before launching the medical cannabis program, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted a 48-page draft online, which contained all the rules and regulations on how patients and healthcare providers will be using medical marijuana in the state. In short, medical marijuana users in Illinois will have to undergo a background check before being fingerprinted and then pay a fee of $150 per year to receive special photo medical marijuana ID. The rules also state to get a medical marijuana card, and not just a simple recommendation from a physician will be required and many conditions will have to be maintained by the doctors before an approval is given out.

The board recommendations will require approval before the medical conditions can be officially eligible for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. The approval needs to be authorized by Nirav Shah, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and an appointee of Governor Rauner. However, Shah has already rejected the board’s suggestions twice before. Gov Rauner had previously rejected the approval of conditions such as diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder back in January 2016.

“No new debilitating medical conditions will be added to the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act at this time,” said Shah. “The pilot program will continue with the 39 conditions and diseases listed in the Act.”

The 39 diseases approved for medical cannabis use include critical conditions such as AIDS/HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, Crohn’s disease, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis etc.

Even the board members doubt their suggestions will be accepted anytime soon. The Advisory Board Chairwoman Dr Leslie Mendoza Temple shared that the problem is having top quality research material which backs up the use of medical cannabis for such conditions since it is an illegal drug, and Rauner administration’s approval standards are too severe.

“Pharmaceutical medications often have randomized controlled trials, so if we put medical cannabis research requirements at that level of FDA drug approval status, we’re never going to get there,” said Temple.

According to Joseph Wright, the person in-charge of directing the marijuana pilot program, the Health Department’s position on the view has not changed. “I don’t have a crystal ball into when or how conditions will be added,” said Wright. “There’s two methods and you all know one of them is through this board, another is through the legislature.”

The Governor’s office, on the other hand, stated not enough time has passed for a full evaluation. A final decision by Governor Rauner on the expansion will come by July 2016.

Research has shown medical marijuana can be used to relieve pain from cancer, reduce the nausea from chemotherapy and slow the wasting in AIDS etc. However, marijuana is also known for impairing short-term memory and judgment along with distorting perception, which may be one of the reasons why the Illinois health department is being so cautious before giving out any approvals.

“Although many states now permit dispensing marijuana for medicinal purposes and there is mounting anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of marijuana-derived compounds, there are currently no FDA-approved indications for ‘medical marijuana’,” said Nora D Volkow, MD, the Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse in an open letter.

Currently the Illinois health department has approved more than 5,600 patient applications for the program, while more than 7,400 individuals submitted an application since the Cannabis registry opened back in September 2014. Similarly, more than 20 medical marijuana dispensaries had been licensed in Illinois by December 2015.

Medicinal marijuana is derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa, which contains the mind-altering chemical compound called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A total of 24 states in the US have approved it to ease symptoms of various health problems. Alaska was the first state to approve the use of medical marijuana back in 1998.

“Cannabis has many currently accepted medical uses in the United States, having been recommended by thousands of licensed physicians to at least 600,000 patients in states with medical cannabis laws,” said Governor Patt Quinn in the bill legalizing marijuana in Illinois made effective on 1st January, 2016.

The Pilot Program Act also lists all the major medical and public health organizations in the US which endorse the use of medical cannabis. For instance, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society etc have all approved cannabis for chronically ill patients.