The Medical Cannabis Pilot Program
At its heart, the impetus for the spread of medical cannabis laws across the country has been driven by patients and caregivers who have experienced firsthand the medicinal benefits of cannabis for those suffering from a wide range of illnesses, and from the undesirable side effects of traditional treatments.
The Medical Cannabis Pilot Program was written after a careful evaluation of what has and has not worked in other states’ programs. The laws are built so that physicians ensure that only qualified patients gain access to cannabis; that cannabis products are laboratory tested for safety and potency; and that all medical cannabis in Illinois is tracked and traceable from cultivator to patient.
The MCPP allows for a total of 21 cultivators where cannabis will be grown and 60 dispensaries where it will be sold, spread evenly throughout the state based on population. This closed-loop system of limited licenses ensures the highest level of quality control and product security. Dispensaries are safe, clean facilities designed to accommodate the sick and staffed by agents as well versed in the products and their applications as anyone in the world. Our mission, like yours, is to help.
The Physician's Role
Unlike traditional medications, patients do not require a prescription to participate in the program. Physicians are not required to specify dosage or application method. The physician serves to guarantee that the applicant is an ongoing patient of the physician who suffers from one of the State’s approved “Debilitating Medical Conditions.” The written certification does not ask that the Physician take any stand whatsoever on the nature of cannabis or cannabis use itself.
On September 7, 2000 U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled in Conant v. McCaffrey that physicians have a First Amendment right to recommend marijuana to patients and that this right applies even if “the physician anticipates that the recommendation will, in turn, be used by the patient to obtain marijuana in violation of federal law.” In Illinois, in order for patients to qualify to purchase medical cannabis a physician must complete a written certification on their behalf.
How Safe Is This For My Patient?
There is no known case of a lethal cannabis overdose; on the basis of animal models, the ratio of lethal to effective dose is estimated as 40,000 to 1. The Drug Awareness Warning Network Annual Report, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), contains a statistical compilation of all drug deaths which occur in the United States. According to this report, there has never been a death recorded from the use of cannabis.
In addition, Illinois law requires very strict testing requirements. Medicine grown or processed by cultivators are tested for mycotoxins, microbial contaminants, pesticide chemical and solvent residue, and an active ingredient analysis of the cannabis, and cultivators are required to place a label showing these results on all medicines. This level of quality control represents one of the strongest arguments for encouraging patients to utilize this Program rather than purchasing cannabis from illegal sources.
How Can I Facilitate Treatment I Am So Unfamiliar With?
Medical cannabis is not taught in medical schools and research has been throttled by Federal laws, but this Program exists because millions of patients across the country have benefited from its use and no longer want to break the law to do so. Even if there are questions that remain about its efficacy, the safety profile of cannabis is broadly accepted and there are substantial amounts of anecdotal as well as research-based evidence arguing for its therapeutic value. On balance, we believe that the decision to side with the patients’ wishes will serve their best interests.
How Does Medical Cannabis Treatment Compare to Marinol?
Marinol is a synthetic form of the cannabinoid delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol, found in cannabis. A review of clinical trials found inhalation of cannabis to be significantly more effective than Marinol for mitigating nausea and emesis.
Patients also report a clear preference for medical cannabis and cite fewer negative side effects than Marinol, including more accurate dosing. Research indicates that cannabis is most effective when all the cannabinoids are present due to synergistic interactions regarding the endocannabinoid system. As a result, whole plant extracts and inhalation have been found superior to isolated cannabinoids alone.
What is a Physician’s Continuing Role Once a Patient Receives a Medical Cannabis Card?
While we strongly encourage patients to keep their doctors informed about how they are medicating with cannabis, the law does not require patients to consult their physicians on usage. As a result, your continuing role in the patient’s use of cannabis will be as involved, or uninvolved, as you and your patient agree for it to be.
At Dispensary 33, we will always suggest that patients start with low doses of cannabis to gauge their sensitivity as well as the benefit they receive, and to incrementally increase dosage only if the patient feels both comfort and relief doing so. We also highly recommend discussing all experiences they have with their physician to formulate an effective treatment.
Will My Patient Get in Trouble For This at Work or Even By Police?
While the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act prohibits employers from discriminating against a cannabis patient, it permits employers to drug test and to enforce zero-tolerance and drug-free workplace policies, as well as to discipline qualifying patients for violating those rules.
However, a patient’s medical records are protected by HIPAA at both the Illinois Department of Public Health and their cannabis dispensary, just as they are at the doctor’s office. Patients are also instructed to medicate only in safe areas away from public view, further protecting their anonymity and encounters with law enforcement.
How Can a Physician Recommend Medical Cannabis for Patients Under 18?
In addition to the Physician Written Certification patients under 18 must also receive a recommendation from a second reviewing physician. This second physician must complete a Reviewing Physician Written Certification and mail it directly to the State. Patients under 18 must also be assigned a caregiver to purchase medical cannabis on their behalf.