Attorney Explains Medical Marijuana Laws in Illinois

CC image Medical Marijuana by Chuck Coker on Flickr

This post was written by Miriam Szatrowski, a criminal defense attorney at Appelman & Associates.  Miriam has a wealth of experience in the criminal and civil courts, and she specializes in DUI, drug, and traffic offenses.  She has also served as an Assistant Public Defender in Kane County.  For more information about Miriam, check out her bio or give her a call at (630) 717-7801.

Last April, I wrote an article explaining the marijuana laws in Illinois. However, last week, Illinois became the 20th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. On Thursday, August 1, Governor Pat Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act into law. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2014, but many people still have questions about what the law really does and how it will work. I will try to answer some of those questions here.

Who will be able to get a prescription to use medical marijuana in Illinois?

A person who wants to get a prescription in Illinois must be at least 18 years old and a resident of Illinois, and must show proof of age and residency. (Note: There is no reciprocity with other states where medical use of marijuana is legal.) In addition, they must pass a criminal background check. They must also present certification from their doctor stating that they are likely to benefit medically from the use of marijuana. Finally, they will need medical records showing that they have been diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition.

What are diseases and conditions that qualify under the new law?

There are a number of conditions that will qualify a person in Illinois to use marijuana medically. If a person does not have one of the qualifying conditions, they cannot use marijuana legally in Illinois, even if it is recommended by their doctor. The qualifying conditions include: Cancer, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, Hepatitis C, ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Glaucoma, Muscular Distrophy, Crohn’s disease, spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. (This is not an exhaustive list.) Terminally ill people with certain symptoms can also qualify.

If you think that you might be a candidate, it is best to speak with a doctor and an attorney to make sure.

When will medical marijuana become available, and where can people buy it?

The State of Illinois will be issuing 60 licenses statewide for marijuana dispensaries where qualified patients can purchase medical marijuana. They will be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces every 2 weeks. Patients will not be permitted to grow their own cannabis plants. Instead, the state will license 22 places to grow cannabis, one in each district of the Illinois State Police Department.

It is not clear when it will become available. The law does not take effect until January 1, 2014, but even then, dispensaries might not begin distribution (or even be open) right away.

In addition, most insurance probably will not cover it, so it will have to be paid for out-of-pocket.

Can I be arrested or fired for having or using medical marijuana?

Possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. While it is unlikely that patients will be prosecuted under federal law for possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal use, it is certainly possible under the law. The federal government could also choose to prosecute people running the dispensaries and growing facilities.

The new law will protect qualifying patients and their caregivers from arrest and prosecution under Illinois law, provided they are abiding by the terms of the law, but it does not protect them from being fired if their employer has drug-free workplace rules.

Why is it called a “Pilot Program”?

The law is a pilot program because it is set to expire after 4 years. If it is successful, the legislature can renew the law at that time, or make changes and pass a new law with those changes. If they do nothing, the law will expire and cannabis possession will become illegal in all circumstances again.