Rauner administration rejects new illnesses for medical marijuana

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration issued a broad rejection Thursday of expanding the list of diseases that can be treated with medical marijuana in Illinois, refusing to add osteoarthritis, migraine, post-traumatic stress disorder and eight other health problems.

Separately, the governor vetoed a bill that would have added PTSD via a legislative route.

The moves were a stern rebuke of recommendations from an expert advisory board appointed by Rauner's predecessor, Democrat Pat Quinn.

Adding conditions would have expanded the potential base of patients. So far, only 3,000 Illinois patients have been approved to use marijuana for conditions listed in the original law such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

In a veto message, Rauner said adding PTSD to the eligibility list would "prematurely expand" the program before the state has had the chance to evaluate it.

"The pilot program is moving forward, but remains in its early stage. Cultivation centers are just beginning to grow their crops, and the first dispensary was licensed at the end of August," Rauner said. "It is therefore premature to expand the pilot program - before any patient has been served and before we have had the chance to evaluate it."

Supporters of adding PTSD noted the decision came a day ahead of Sept. 11, a difficult anniversary for many veterans.

"In my opinion this is a direct disrespect and disregard to all those who have fought for this country," said Sandy Champion, whose husband, Jim Champion, is an Illinois veteran who has multiple sclerosis and is a member of the medical cannabis advisory board. "It is because of 9/11 that many of our veterans and civilians are suffering from PTSD. They gave their lives, health and freedom to serve us and today our governor, who is the head of our state, let them down."

The next step for patients may be court. Illinois law says such decisions are subject to judicial review. Last month, PTSD patients in Colorado filed a lawsuit challenging a July decision by that state's health board against adding PTSD to the medical marijuana eligibility list.

In Illinois, the advisory board is made up of physicians, nurses and patients. It had reviewed medical evidence and listened to patient testimony before recommending 11 conditions to the Illinois Department of Public Health in May. Thursday's announcement came from the health department's director, Dr. Nirav Shah, a Rauner appointee.

Last month, Rauner vetoed an extension to the four-year pilot program, saying he would approve it continuing only through April 2018 until it could be evaluated. The first-term Republican's support of medical marijuana has been tentative at best.

"I'm disappointed after how hard we worked as a board to review the medical evidence and hear patient testimony," said Leslie Mendoza Temple, a suburban Chicago physician and the advisory board's chair. "I'm disappointed most of all for my patients. To get news like this is frankly upsetting. It leaves us with fewer options to control their pain and suffering."

The advisory board wasn't a rubber stamp for automatically approving conditions. In May, the board rejected three other health conditions because of a lack of scientific evidence or, in the case of diabetes, because of concern that marijuana would stimulate appetite in patients who need to watch their diets.

The board meets again Oct. 7 to hear public testimony in favor of adding new health conditions. Members also will spend additional time reviewing some of the same conditions recommended in May.

Patients must get a signed certification from a doctor as part of the application process to use medical marijuana in Illinois.

The conditions recommended by the advisory board that were rejected Thursday are: anorexia nervosa, chronic post-operative pain, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, Neuro-Behcet's autoimmune disease, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, polycystic kidney disease, PTSD and superior canal dehiscence syndrome.

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