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Medical marijuana a step closer

Pilot program to start accepting applications for cards next month

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:52 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 12:06 a.m. CST
Caption
(Danielle Guerra – dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Sandy Champion smiles while her husband Jim Champion, an army veteran, talks about being able to scale back from taking 59 pills a day to manage his multiple sclerosis to now only taking six pills a day with the aid of marijuana and marijuana edibles in their living room on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. The couple from Somonauk have been major proponent for medicinal marijuana use in Springfield. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the four-year pilot program into law Aug. 1, 2013.

By ANDREA AZZO - aazzo@shawmedia.com

SOMONAUK – Multiple sclerosis patient and Army veteran Jim Champion doesn't mind that he is still waiting for his medical marijuana card.

Champion and his wife, Sandy, who live in Somonauk, lobbied for medicinal marijuana in Springfield and were gratified when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the four-year pilot program into law Aug. 1, 2013.

"You've got to give it time to get it working and running," he said. "I'm proud our bill is as strict as it is to do away with fraud. I don’t mind because I know they're working hard. They're working fast."

More than a year later, Champion still buys marijuana from a trusted, illicit source. He said smoking two marijuana cigarettes – he eschews the term "joints" – a day has helped him cut down from taking more than 50 pills a day to just six: three to control his spasms, two painkillers and an as-needed sleeping pill.

Patients with one of 40 medical conditions such as being HIV-positive or having rheumatoid arthritis may qualify for a medical marijuana card, and can begin submitting their applications Sept. 2. They must be fingerprinted, undergo a background check and submit paperwork from their doctor to be eligible.

Once qualifying patients get their cards, they can expect an even longer wait to buy medical marijuana. People who want to operate medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers may send their applications Sept. 8 through 22, although those dates could change, according to the state's medical marijuana website.

Local politicians state Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley) and DeKalb County Board Chairman Jeffery Metzger (R-Sandwich) both said they have spoken with people interested in opening either a cultivation center or dispensary in DeKalb County. They have given them information on how to apply.

"They were collecting data at that point," said Metzger, who said he talked with interested parties about six months ago. "As far as I know, there's nothing to move forward on."

Only one cultivation center will be allowed to operate in each of the 22 state police districts. DeKalb County shares the second district with DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties. A total of 60 dispensaries will be located throughout the state, with a small likelihood of one being in DeKalb County, Pritchard said.

Recreational marijuana

With medical marijuana now legal, some will lobby for recreational legalization of marijuana come January. Dan Linn, executive director of National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said his group will propose that adults be allowed to grow marijuana in their backyards or on private property.

Although Linn does not expect his group's efforts to succeed right away, he is optimistic. Colorado and Washington are the only states that have legalized recreational smoking. Meanwhile, voters in Oregon and Alaska will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana use in November, and legislative proposals have begun to surface in other states.

"It's a matter of 'when' instead of 'if,' " Linn said.

Linn shouldn't expect a "yes" vote from Pritchard, who supported legalizing medical marijuana, but is against legalizing recreational marijuana, even if there are age restrictions.

"Medical marijuana is a four-year experimental program [that should be enforced] in a safe, secure environment," Pritchard said. "If we can't do that, I'll certainly even contest medical marijuana, let alone recreational use."

Moving forward

As for Jim and Sandy Champion, they are focused on getting their medical marijuana cards by this spring. Sandy Champion, Jim's caretaker, will be able to travel on her husband's behalf to get the medical marijuana if Jim Champion is sick.

"We're ecstatic it's finally coming here," Sandy Champion said. "Our [application] envelopes will be sent on the first day. Pretty soon, we're going to be standing at the next dispensary out here taking pictures. I just don’t know where."

On Tuesday, a nurse visited Jim Champion to get his fingerprints. The next step is to wait to formally apply for a card. Although the couple expect to pay about $400 out-of-pocket for an ounce of medical marijuana — Jim Champion's government insurance, Tricare, will not pay for medical marijuana because it is illegal under federal law — they both maintain paying for medical marijuana is better than taking methadone, a narcotic pain reliever.

Jim Champion's methadone prescription is down to 10 milligrams. When he has taken methadone in the past, he would go through withdrawal symptoms, he said. Smoking marijuana is different, he said.

"You smile," he said. "It's not the worst thing in the world. You forget for a couple of minutes that you have a horrible disease. It’s a nice side effect."

Medical marijuana facts 

•Those interested in submitting an application to receive a medical marijuana card may do so starting Sept. 2.

• Qualifying patients ages 18 and older may purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana in a two-week period from an authorized medical marijuana dispensary.

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

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