Medical cannabis is now legally available in Illinois, but patients should still take extra care in interactions with law enforcement. It is especially important for patients to remember that neither prescribing physicians, nor registered dispensaries nor the Illinois Department of Public Health itself can give legal advice -- only a practicing attorney can do that.
The Medical Marijuana Pilot Program, years in the making, kicked off on Nov. 9 with just a handful of authorized dispensaries opening for business. Authorities expect about 25 sites to be open by the end of the year. They also expect that more patients will register: Initially, just 3,300 people had received ID cards that allow them to purchase the drug.
A patient must go through a multi-step process to participate in the program. The process includes a fingerprint-based background check that could reveal disqualifying criminal convictions (drug possession, for example). A patient must have received a diagnosis of one of the approved conditions from a qualified physician, and they must register with one specific dispensary. Only card-carrying registered patients may purchase medical cannabis at a registered dispensary.
That registration card, however, is not a get out of jail free card. Each qualifying patient is allowed just 2.5 ounces of cannabis in a two-week period. If necessary, a physician may file a waiver to increase the amount. Any more than that could spell trouble.
There are penalties for noncompliance, and there are no additional protections from prosecution for related crimes. For example, a qualified patient carrying more than 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis (or the physician-approved amount) may face felony possession or even trafficking charges. A qualified patient driving while under the influence of cannabis may be arrested and charged with driving while impaired. Remember, any amount of cannabis in a driver's system is too much, according to state law.
The harshest penalty, however, may come from IDHP. A conviction could result in the state revoking the patient's registration card.
For patients, then, the best defense is a good defense. They should understand what their participation means in every aspect of their lives.
CBS St. Louis, "Illinois Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Begin Sales," Nov. 9, 2015
State of Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot Program at mcpp.illinois.gov, accessed Nov. 11, 2015