NY adds chronic pain, MN adds PTSD, Will Illinois Keep Up?

The biggest medical cannabis news since the Nov. 8 elections has been the expansion this week of two of the country’s most restrictive medical cannabis programs: New York and Minnesota.

New York has been on a bender lately, expanding (and improving) their small medical cannabis industry.  Last month New York’s Department of Health added registered nurse practitioners to the list of who can certify medical cannabis patients, and now they will be moving forward with adding physician assistants to the authorized medical professionals that can add a patient to the NY program.  That’s significant, but the move that will propel New York into the category of robust medical cannabis states is the decision to add chronic pain as a stand-alone qualifying condition:

“Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York state, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement.

The health department said it developing a proposed regulatory amendment to the law that took effect in January that legalized medical marijuana in New York in non-smokeable forms and for specific medical conditions.

As many of you know, a defining feature of a robust versus struggling medical cannabis states is the inclusion of chronic pain to the list of qualifying medical conditions.  Chronic pain accounted for over 85% of medical cannabis patients in Colorado before it became recreational-use (almost 130,000 patients in 2013), there are nearly 90,000 medical marijuana patients in Arizona.  Compare that to a state like Illinois with the population of CO and AZ combined, where we have only 12,000 medical patients.  New York has just broken the 10,000 patient mark, but adding chronic pain will exponentially grow their program.  Way to go, NY!

Minnesota’s Department of Health also made the decision this week to add PTSD to their small medical marijuana program.

Minnesota veterans and other residents suffering post-traumatic stress disorder will be allowed to use medical marijuana starting in August, the state’s Department of Health announced Thursday as it expanded the slim list of conditions that qualify for the program.

The state will also loosen its restriction on how medical marijuana can be taken, allowing manufacturers to sell topical patches, creams and lotions come August, in addition to the oils, capsules and vapors that are currently sold. The law passed in 2014 explicitly bans smoking or using the full plant.

This change is welcome news for the two businesses authorized to cultivate and sell the cannabis there, and will help expand the program to those who might medically benefit from cannabis use.  But it won’t blow the doors open like NY’s chronic pain decision.

Where does that leave my home state of Illinois and it’s fledgling medical cannabis program?

We’ve covered the continuing lawsuits from patients trying to add new conditions in Illinois.  Currently, Chronic Post-Operative Pain and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are pending review in Illinois appellate courts, with a number of other conditions awaiting renewed IL Department of Health review after judicial orders.  PTSD was added to Illinois’ program this Fall after agreement by the state legislature and Governor, despite being earlier denied by the IDPH Director following a recommendation by the IL Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to add it.  So what the heck is going to happen?

The obvious part of the answer is that IDPH and IL Governor Rauner are all but certain to oppose expansion of the medical cannabis program.  Unlike MN and NY, there is no reason to think IDPH will voluntarily add new medical conditions, or expand the category of medical professionals that can certify new medical cannabis patients.  The Rauner Administration has been consistent in their opposition (Guv probably dislikes marijuana just a tick less than he hates unions), but I would expect the legislature to push new bills this coming Spring that would address some of these issues.  The Appellate court decisions will be interesting, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the courts rule in either direction.  As always, stay tuned, keep pushing for change, and thanks for setting a great example, New York and Minnesota!


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