The curious disappearance of the IL Medical Cannabis Advisory Board

ILSB2228Most of us in the Illinois medical cannabis community are very aware that our governor, Bruce Rauner, is no friend of our medical cannabis program. He has consistently sabotaged it from the very beginning. He delayed the allocation of licenses to dispensary owners which retarded the start of the MCPP. He has consistently vetoed any and every attempt to add new qualifying conditions.

Now, it has become public knowledge that Governor Rauner "made a deal" with Illinois Deputy Majority Leader, State Representative, Lou Lang, into disbanding the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board (MCAB). According to SB10, which amended the MCPP, the MCAB was to be reconstituted. In exchange, the MCPP was extended until 2020. In addition, 2 new qualifying conditions were added; PTSD and Terminal Illness. It also relaxed the requirements of physicians from recommending its usage to merely verifying one of the qualifying conditions. As many of you know, the majority of Illinois doctors have been very medical cannabis adverse. This change was crucial in giving many more patients access to the program.

Jim and Sandy Champion, Michael Fine, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple and IL Rep. Lou Lang

Jim and Sandy Champion, Michael Fine, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple and IL Rep. Lou Lang

Those on the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which included Jim Champion, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple and Michael Fine, unhappily agreed to the disbanding of the board, for "the good of the program." Jim was the veterans' representative. Dr. Temple has helped over 100 patients gain access to the MCPP. Michael Fine, husband of IL Representative Laura Fine (D-17th), is a medical cannabis patient who lost his arm in a car accident. The 3 of them, along with Representative Lou Lang, have decided to go public in an attempt to put a stop to further politicizing the MCPP.

The creation of the MCAB was to help the MCPP evolve into a program where ongoing research on medical cannabis by the medical team would lead to the addition of many more qualifying conditions. Prospective patients were allowed to petition the MCAB twice a year for the addition of conditions. Petitioners presented their cases, in person, supported by copious documentation and personal experiences. Since the program has been up and running since November, 2015, 7 new qualifying conditions have been recommended by the MCAB. All 7 have been turned down, some several times, by Dr. Nirav Shah, Governor Rauner's handpicked Illinois Department of Public Health Director. Theoretically, Dr. Shah had the ultimate authority to approve or reject recommendations by the MCAB. It became abundantly clear that Governor Rauner actually held the power as he continued to veto one condition after another.

Now that the MCAB no longer exists, Dr. Shah has complete control over the petition process and he is making decisions behind closed doors. He is accountable to no one, as there is no longer media coverage about the decisions he is making. Prospective patients are in the dark about what conditions are even being considered. The only other way to add conditions is through legislative action, through the courts. There are currently 7 lawsuits pending, in an attempt to add the 7 qualifying conditions. However, it has come out that Dr. Shah was instructed by Governor Rauner to reject all of the qualifying conditions. Lawmakers would have to pass legislation to add any more conditions. The members of the MCAB were told that a new board was forming. They were encouraged to apply. Now, it is clear that Governor Rauner never had any intention of allowing the formation of a new MCAB.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

Governor Rauner's office declined to comment on this new revelation. The only information coming from Dr. Shah's office was via a spokesperson. Apparently, the findings by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) were that they "found a lack of persuasive evidence that individuals with the condition would benefit from the use of medical cannabis,” after reviewing the record for each condition. Former members of the MCAB are receiving emails from prospective patients, asking how they can get their qualifying condition approved. They are very frustrated and are telling people to call Governor Rauner's office and also to call a reporter. I hope those of you reading this article will be inspired to act by raising awareness, calling Governor Rauner's office and reaching out to your Illinois representatives. If you know anyone in the media, please reach out to them!

BTW, for those of you unfamiliar with Lou Lang, he is responsible for the passage of the MCPP, along with many medical cannabis advocates. Lou Lang is actually my representative in the 16th district, Niles Township. He is one of the most respected and admired legislators in Illinois.

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