The legal use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in the State of Illinois began on August 1, 2013, but got off to a rather slow start with the first registration ID cards not being issued until October 2015.

This is typical for Illinois, where everything state-run gets bogged down in bureaucracy.

Legalization Progress in Illinois

Despite the slow start, things have begun to progress with more than $42 million in retail sales and an approved patient list of around 16,000 people since November 2015.

Although these numbers are lower than projected estimates from 2014, they do represent a trend that is growing with each month that passes by.

The growing pains experienced since the beginning of the program came about for a handful of reasons. The main one being the fact that Illinois’s list of qualifying ailments and conditions is shorter and much stricter when compared to states like California or Michigan.

When it began, the list included only 39 conditions (it’s up to 42 now), all of which are considered debilitating or severe. Some of the more common ailments on the list include cancer, severe fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Crohn’s disease.

In the past year, the board that decides which conditions qualify have added rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and glaucoma to the list. These additions have opened the program to many more patients.

Another big reason for the slow start is the fact that an applicant not only had to have a documented history of treatment for a particular condition, but they were also required to have their physician explicitly recommend cannabis therapy.

This is easier said than done in Illinois. The vast majority of doctors and physicians in this state do not support cannabis as a medical alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals.

The reasons for this can range from their personal views on the plants effectiveness to a fear of going against federal law, which still labels cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

Although this obstacle presented a real impediment on the progression of the program, a revision in the law occurred relatively recently that now eases the pressure of directly gaining a physician’s approval.

Instead, the applicant must be able to certify the existence of a bona fide doctor-patient relationship and that the patient does in fact possess a qualifying, debilitating medical condition. This change has allowed Illinois’s MMJ program to grow at a quicker pace.

Medical Marijuana in Illinois

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a legally permitted medicinal cannabis recipient from my hometown in Illinois.

My friend Lucky is 40 years old and for the last 20 of those years, he has suffered from a herniated disc with raw cartilage degeneration that stemmed from a workplace injury.

The result has been constant back pain, making even the smallest of activities an uncomfortable experience to say the least.

He says that, traditionally, the doctors would prescribe a variety of pain medication.

“They’ve had me on OxyContin, morphine, and a variety of pharmaceutical pain medications. I’ve never really liked that kind of prescription medication or the way it made me feel.”

When I asked him what he feels is the main benefit of switching to cannabis therapy as a treatment, his response was one I’ve heard many times from others throughout the country.

“The best part is breaking free of the dependency to prescription opioid medication. Cannabis helps provide relief and reduces the pain and stress on my back muscles. It does so without any side effects, besides hunger,” he says.

What Strains Are Best for Back Pain

Some of the cannabis strains he utilizes contain higher levels of THC, while others are almost solely CBD and allow him to medicate on a daily basis.

“I use flowers often, but oil and wax concentrates are also mixed into my personal daily use of the medication,” he adds.

Another important aspect of his legal medicinal cannabis use is the fact that he doesn’t have to try and find it on the streets or the black market, which essentially would make him a criminal in the eyes of our justice system.

Getting his medication from a dispensary makes him feel better about his choice and he feels the workers there truly help him pick the varieties that are best suited for his needs.

“They (the budtenders) are very educated in adjusting and fine-tuning things to fit my personal medical needs.”

I asked Lucky if he felt there should be any changes made to Illinois’s MMJ program and he feels that there should be more information available on how to go about getting approval for a patient card.

“I had a difficult time receiving mine because my doctors were not supportive of cannabis therapy. It took some time before I was actually recommended to the right doctor, one that believed in the value of cannabis as a viable medical treatment,” he says.

Even though patients no longer technically need a written physician’s approval, Lucky is quick to point out that having one will make the approval process go much smoother.

And, not surprisingly, larger, more populated areas and cities tend to be more liberal and have doctors that “seem to realize that this is not about getting drugs; it’s about understanding that this is a medication that can actually work and improve the quality of a person’s life in a more natural way.”

As cannabis continues to prove itself as a viable alternative to traditional pharmaceutical drug treatments, hopefully the plant’s stigma will be lifted and more health care professionals will recommend it for their patients.

Learn more about the medicinal cannabis program in Illinois.

Also check out How to Choose a Good Marijuana Dispensary.