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Judge Orders Illinois to Add Post-Operative Chronic Pain as Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana

A county judge has ordered the Illinois Department of Health and its director to expand the state’s list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions to include post-operative chronic pain. The ruling could bring in more medical cannabis users to a program that has historically suffered from a lack of patients.

Cook County Judge Neil Cohen recently ordered the Illinois Department of Health to add post-operative chronic pain to its qualifying list of conditions for medical marijuana, a Chicago NBC affiliate reports. The health department’s director Dr. Nirav Shah has repeatedly ignored recommendations from the Illinois’ own Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to expand the medical marijuana program’s qualifying conditions.

Following Judge Cohen’s ruling, Dr. Shah must add post-operative chronic pain to the list of conditions within 30 days. A hearing was scheduled for November 3 to ensure that Dr. Shah has complied with the order. Public Health spokesperson Melaney Arnold says the department is reviewing the judge’s ruling and plans to consult with the state Attorney General’s office.

This is the second occurrence in which Judge Cohen ordered Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration to expand the list. This summer, the judge ruled that the department had wrongly rejected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Gov. Rauner responded by signing a bill to add PTSD as a medical cannabis condition.

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Illinois’ medical marijuana law allows residents to petition the state to add conditions to the eligible list. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board then reviews the petitions and makes a recommendation to the Department of Health. Despite the board’s recommendations to add several conditions, including post-operative chronic pain, the department has consistently refused. A series of lawsuits from citizens to expand the list of conditions have followed. Still pending lawsuits are in regard to autism and osteoarthritis.

Attorney Michael Goldberg represented the Illinois resident that sued the health department for not approving post-operative chronic pain. Goldberg’s client suffers from pain associated with nerve damage.

“There are thousands of people in Illinois that are addicted to opioids who have no choice but to use them for their pain, and that’s all they are allowed to have according to the state,” said Goldberg. “These are people that will have pain for years. This nerve damage causes my client to not even take a step without pain.”

Illinois legalized medical marijuana in 2013, but the program has struggled to really get off the ground. While the program has approved over 40 ailments, few patients in Illinois actually suffer from those particular conditions, and most pain-related conditions were not originally included and then rejected by the health department. The research demonstrating cannabis’s effectiveness for managing pain is vast, with studies showing it can help reduce pain that has otherwise proven refractory to other traditional treatments.

Illinois’ medical marijuana program has seen steady growth this summer, however, with the month of July bringing in a record-breaking $2.9 million in retail sales. The recent boost in sales have been linked to the Illinois Department of Public Health approving more patient applications and the state is projected to bring in $25 million to $35 million in sales over the year. The program was scheduled to expire next year, but Gov. Rauner signed legislation this summer to extend it another 2-1/2 years.

Expanding the qualified list of conditions would further help in the prosperity of the Illinois medical marijuana program, which since the beginning has suffered from a lack of patients. As of October 5, the state’s medical marijuana program had only 11,100 individuals registered as qualifying patients, and received 13,500 submitted applications.

Read about the research demonstrating cannabis efficacy for managing both acute and chronic pain on our research overview page. Learn more about Illinois’ cannabis laws on our education page.