Worth mayor is grateful for expansion of marijuana pilot program

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Worth Mayor Mary Werner was concerned when Gov. Rauner refused to extend the deadline of the pilot program for medicinal marijuana dispensaries and additional illnesses that the state would cover.

Werner admitted she was surprised last week when Rauner reversed his decision and said the pilot program would be extended from Jan. 1, 2018 to July 1, 2020. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, will be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions. Werner would like to see more illnesses added but said this is a good start.

“Well, we were very grateful,” said Werner. “It took us so long to go through the licensing process that we have had not much time to see the program develop because of the delay.”

The original four-year pilot program for medical marijuana dispensaries began in 2013. Former Gov. Quinn approved the idea but when Rauner was elected in 2014, he wanted to review the proposal. Rauner eventually made some appointments to the advisory board and had tighter restrictions on what illnesses could be treated with medicinal marijuana.

Rauner, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-82nd) and state Rep. Lou Lang (D-16th) compromised last week on the pilot program. Included in the compromise besides the extension and the addition of PTSD was that doctors no longer have to recommend cannabis for patients. Physicians would still have to make it known that a doctor-patient relationship exists and that the patient has a qualifying condition. However, doctors no longer have to recommend medical marijuana.

This had been a sticking point for doctors who did not want to be accused of promoting the use of medical marijuana as a cure. Proponents have stated repeatedly that the use of medical marijuana is not a cure but will provide relief for someone suffering pain from an illness or disease.

Both the House and Senate bills were passed last week. Rauner is expected to sign both. Once the bills are presented on his desk, the governor will have up to 60 days to sign them into law.

“Oh yeah, we are very pleased,” said Steve Weisman, CEO of Windy City Cannabis, which runs several dispensaries in the south and southwest suburbs that includes the Worth location at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. “We are pleased that the governor now recognizes the importance of this program.”

Weisman said that newly instituted laws will provide more balance to the Illinois health advisory board.

“It is our hope that the governor will add more illnesses to the list of qualifying conditions,” said Weisman. “But I believe with the new law reconstituting changes with the advisory board, more sympathetic board members will encourage the governor to add more illnesses.”

But Weisman added that, “I’m hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Werner said that it was due to the delays from the Rauner administration that the Worth dispensary did not open until January. A capacity crowd attended a Worth town hall meeting last September in which they were informed about the program and the dispensary. The majority of the residents who attended that meeting were receptive to the program.

Weisman and Werner both attended the meeting. The Worth mayor said gaining the support and confidence of residents was her main concern when the proposal for the dispensary was first presented the previous year.

But since the Worth dispensary began operating, the number of people applying for medicinal marijuana was not reaching the goals the owners had hoped. She addressed those concerns during a Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon in April.

“The original idea was that 100,000 patients would have signed up by now, but so far the total is 5,000,” said Werner about the pilot program goals. “The owners of the (Worth) dispensary asked if I could help them and I told them I would. I put in a couple of calls to the governor’s office and talked to a couple of officials. Right now we are very happy where we are at.”

Weisman was not as concerned. Despite some illnesses that are not recognized, like people suffering from severe migraine headaches, he believes there is reason for optimism.

“They were (the dispensaries) all doing OK,” said Weisman. “People have to become comfortable with it and that takes time. But with the extension, this tells people that the pilot program is being taken seriously. It is our belief that more doctors will come on board with the extension of the pilot program.”

Figures provided after April indicated that 36 dispensaries had 6,200 patients who qualified to purchase and use medical marijuana. With the addition of PTSD, some ailments and diseases that Illinois law recognizes for patients who qualify for medical marijuana use with a doctor’s signature are cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. The drug still remains illegal under federal law.

With the pilot program being expanded two more years, Weisman believes more patients will take part.

“Absolutely,” said Weisman. “The extension will add more patients. Adding PTSD will provide more relief for patients and encourage more people to come for treatments.”

Werner believes the program will expand because it will provide more time for educating the public.

“Right now, we are pleased,” the mayor said. “Hopefully, the governor will add more illnesses to be treated.”