State officials expect a flood of applications for using medical marijuana, perhaps "tens of thousands of patients over time," said Bob Morgan, coordinator of Illinois medical marijuana program.
The state's medical marijuana program website has received more than 12,000 unique visitors and more than 2,000 people have signed up for email notifications about the program.
Proposed rules for the program, which will be submitted to a legislative committee for approval, detail who can apply for a medical marijuana photo ID card and when they can apply.
The draft rules list 30 qualifying medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. The proposed rules specify that a bona fide physician-patient relationship must go beyond a simple recommendation for medical cannabis or a consultation for that purpose.
Patients would have to pay $150 a year to apply for a medical marijuana card and pay for their own fingerprinting for an Illinois State Police background check. Patients receiving Social Security disability income could pay a reduced fee of $75 a year.
Caregivers of qualified patients could also apply for a card for $125 a year. Caregivers with cards could obtain marijuana from a licensed dispensary on behalf of a patient.
Based on the first-year experience in other states, officials decided to allow patients to apply in two waves based on the first initial of their last names to manage the expected surge, Morgan said. The first applications will be on paper, rather than online. An electronic application process could be set up in the future, he said.
This year, patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L could submit an application in September or October. Patients whose last names begin with M through Z could submit an application in November or December.
Starting in 2015, applications will be accepted year round, regardless of last name.
Patients receiving treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals will have a somewhat easier time getting a medical marijuana card. VA doctors, as federal employees, aren't permitted to recommend controlled substances. The draft rules spell out that veterans getting VA care won't need a doctor to sign off on their application.
Convicted felons would not be allowed to get a marijuana card. That's a concern for some advocates of medical marijuana, who say it makes no sense that a felon can get a prescription for strong painkillers such as Oxycodone, Hydrocodone or Vicodin, but not marijuana.
A nine-member expert advisory board would review petitions for adding medical conditions to the list approved for medical marijuana. The board would include a patient advocate and eight health professionals in the fields of neurology, pain management, cancer, psychiatry, infectious disease, family medicine, medical ethics and pharmacy.
Members would be appointed by the governor. The advisory board would hold public hearings as part of its decision-making process.
The draft rules say patients would be allowed to buy no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana during a 14-day period.
Information about the marijuana program, and its proposed rules, is available here: http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/mcpp/Pages/default.aspx.