Illinois Must Add Chronic Pain as Qualifying Condition for Medical Cannabis, Judge Rules
Illinois will soon join the nation’s most progressive medical marijuana programs, allowing prescription opioid users to trade their pharmaceuticals for state-approved cannabis.
Published on January 17, 2018

Photo via Zolnierek

Responding directly to the capacity of cannabis to decrease opioid dependence, an Illinois judge ruled on Friday that the state Health Department must add “intractable pain” to its list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the ruling stems from a year-old lawsuit brought on by Illinois resident Ann Mednick, who suffers from chronic pain due to osteoarthritis. In her suit, Mednick says she was prescribed opioid painkillers for her persistent pain, but was rejected when she approached the Health Department in seeking medical cannabis as an a treatment alternative. Unsatisfied with the side effects and threat of addiction presented by heavy painkillers, Mednick persisted, until her case was eventually affirmed by Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell last week.

“The record shows that individuals with intractable pain would benefit from the medical use of cannabis,” Judge Mitchell wrote in his decision.

Illinois’ medical cannabis program covers more than 40 qualifying conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and glaucoma, but when it comes to chronic pain, Prairie State residents have been out of luck, shuffled to a local pharmacy instead of a dispensary.

“Illinois is years behind the times,” Mednick told the Tribune. “The state needs to get (it) together.”

In states around the country with comprehensive medical marijuana programs, chronic or intractable pain is often the most-cited reason for cannabis use, supporting a number of clinical studies claiming the all-natural medicine can help opioid users kick their habit. In one ongoing study from the firm Aclara, dealing with patients specifically from Illinois, researchers found that 67% of participants stopped using all opioid painkillers after entering the state’s medical cannabis program.

Mednick’s early requests to the Health Department’s medical cannabis advisory board included statements from at least two medical journals citing 45 clinical studies of cannabis’ positive effect on chronic pain; yet she was repeatedly rejected.

In his final decision, Judge Mitchell called the Health Department’s earlier denials and literature rejections as “clearly erroneous.”

It is not clear exactly when the Health Department will expand access to the state’s medical marijuana program to residents suffering from chronic pain, but with plans already in motion pushing for the legalization of adult-use cannabis by the end of this year, Illinois is quickly becoming one of Middle America’s most welcoming cannabis bastions.

Still, despite Judge Mitchell’s crystal clear ruling, a spokesperson at the Illinois Health Department told the Tribune that the state agency would be appealing the ruling — a last-ditch effort that could delay the policy change indefinitely.

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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