Medical marijuana is cannabis used for medicinal purposes. The legalization of medical marijuana in the United States has had a tumultuous and harried history (1). Like many other “hot button” issues with socio-cultural and political ramifications, the topic of Illinois medical marijuana has been left primarily at the behest of the individual states with some proving more “liberal” on the issue than others.
California was the first to decriminalize medical marijuana use in 1996.
The state allowed the first legal medical marijuana dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (2), in Fairfax. Since then, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation permitting the possession, use, and distribution of medical cannabis in some form. Even so, most states are highly restrictive (3) on who can receive medical marijuana.
Cannabis remains prohibited as a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level, whether it be for possession, use or distribution. This is per the 1970 Controlled Substances Act in which cannabis is outlawed after first being prohibited by the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.
Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) Law in Illinois: A Background
Illinois became the 20th state (4) in the Union to legalize medical marijuana with the 2013 Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, Public Act 98-0122 (hereafter “the Act”). Fundamentally, this state law ensures that an individual diagnosed with one or more debilitating conditions is eligible to apply for a medical cannabis registry identification card. This can only be obtained with a written certification from a physician specifying the condition.
The Act established a patient registry program to protect the registered qualifying patients and their registered appointed caregivers against “arrest, prosecution, or denial of any right or privilege.” The legislation also made provision for cultivation centers and dispensing organizations.
Illinois lawmakers legalized a four-year pilot in 2013, but the first sales didn’t occur until November 2015. The pilot program was set to expire at the end of 2017. However, in 2016, Governor Bruce Rauner extended the program (5) for another 2½ years. It was felt that the remaining time simply was not sufficient to gauge the efficacy and success of the pilot program.
Veterans receiving health services at a Veteran Affairs (VA) facility are excluded from the Act. (6) Veterans must submit one year of medical records from the VA facility where they receive services.
The Act was amended in 2015 to include eligibility for children under age 18. It was further extended in 2016 for a further four years, i.e., until July 2020.
The Illinois Medical Marijuana Registration Process
Patients and caregivers must register with the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which is run by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), to obtain a medical cannabis registration card.
There are strict medical requirements for a patient to qualify for a medical cannabis registration card in the state of Illinois. The patient must have what is known as a “Qualifying Debilitating Medical Condition.” (7) This can include one or more of the following:
- Agitation of Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Arnold-Chiari malformation
- Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
- Crohn’s disease
- CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome Type II)
- Fibrous Dysplasia
- Hepatitis C
- Interstitial cystitis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Nail-patella syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-Concussion Syndrome
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
- Residual limb pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Seizures (including the characteristic of Epilepsy)
- Severe fibromyalgia
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Spinal cord disease (including but not limited to arachnoiditis)
- Spinal cord injury is damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
- Spinocerebellar ataxia
- Tarlov cysts
- Tourette syndrome
- Traumatic brain injury
- Wasting syndrome / Cachexia
Personal Requirements (8) to Qualify for a Patient Registry Card
Importantly, the patient must also further…
- Be a resident of the State of Illinois at the time of application and remain a resident during participation in the medical cannabis program;
- Have a qualifying debilitating medical condition;
- Have a signed physician certification (unless the patient is a veteran receiving medical care at a VA facility);
- Complete a fingerprint-based background check within 30 days of submitting the application and not have been convicted of an excluded offense (i.e., a felony under the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, Cannabis Control Act, or Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act or any similar provisions in a local ordinance or other jurisdiction) unless the relevant authority waives such a conviction(s) at its own discretion;
- Not hold a school bus permit or CDL; and
- Not be an active duty law enforcement officer, correctional officer, correctional probation officer, or firefighter.
The Process – Getting Started (Adults)
A patient wishing to be legally registered with the state’s medical cannabis program must fulfil the following requirements.
1.Complete The Physician Certification Form (9)
Some things to note about this form:
- It does not apply to the terminally ill (see below).
- It does not apply to veterans.
- This certification must be received within 90 days of the patient’s application and must show an in-person visit date with the physician within the last 90 days.
- The physician doing the certificate must be registered as a physical practitioner in the state of Illinois.
- A full physical examination of the patient must have been undertaken by the physician.
- An assessment of the qualifying patient’s medical history, including the review of medical records from other treating physicians from the previous 12 months, must be done and attested to by the physician.
- The certificate does not constitute a prescription for medical cannabis.
- The correct debilitating disease/diseases listed on the form must be picked by the physician.
- It can only be submitted to the IDPH by the physician, not the patient.
2. Complete the Patient Application: (10)
- The correct form is the “Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Application for Qualifying Patient Registry Identification Card” obtainable from the IDPH or via the link above.
- The patient must complete the form as fully as possible.
- A listed cannabis dispensary must be chosen as part of the application process.
- The qualifying patient must attest to a series of acknowledgments (many of them disclaimers by the State of Illinois in accordance with the applicable Act) and sign accordingly. These include acknowledgement that all information provided by the patient is true and accurate as well as acknowledgement that the patient understands that the growing, distribution, or possession of cannabis under the Act, unless done through a federally approved research program, is a violation of federal law (remembering that the possession, use or distribution of cannabis remains a felony under U.S. federal law), amongst other acknowledgements.
- Cards, once issued, are valid for three years.
- The estimated processing time (11) for a patient card is currently 40-45 days. Unfortunately, there is no tracking system for medical cannabis applications. If in doubt about the status of a card, a successful applicant can follow up with an email to the IDPH at this address: dph.m[email protected]
3. Pay the Application Fee: (12)
Normal Fees for Registry Application:
- $100 1 Year Registry Card
- $200 2 Year Registry Card
- $250 3 Year Registry Card
Reduced Fees for Registry Application: Patients receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and veterans are eligible for the following reduced fees:
- $50 1 Year Registry Card
- $100 2 Year Registry Card
- $100 3 Year Registry Card
4. A 2×2-inch Passport Photo
5. Proof of Residency:
For the purpose of a registry identification card for qualifying patients, proof of residency (13) can be provided by submitting any combination of the following documents, as required.
- If the Driver’s License, Temporary Visitor Driver’s License or State ID address matches the qualifying patient’s application, then one additional proof of residency sub-listed below must be submitted.
- If a US Passport submitted as proof of identity or a Driver’s License or State ID address does not match the address on the qualifying patient’s application, then two forms of proof of residency sub-listed below must also be submitted.
- Acceptable forms of proof of residency sub-listed here include…
- Pay stub or electronic deposit receipt, issued less than 60 days prior to the application date, that shows evidence of withholding for Illinois State income tax
- Valid voter registration card with an address in Illinois
- Current military identification card
- Bank statement (dated less than 90 days prior to application) or credit card statement (dated less than 60 days prior to an application)
- Deed/title, mortgage or rental/lease agreement
- Property tax bill
- Insurance policy (current coverage for automobile, homeowner’s, health or medical, or renter’s insurance in Illinois)
- Medical claim or statement of benefits from a hospital or health clinic, private insurance company or public (government) agency, dated less than 12 months prior to the application
- Tuition invoice/official mail from an in-state college or university, dated less than 12 months prior to the application
- A utility bill, including, but not limited to, those for electric, water, refuse, telephone land-line, cellular phone, cable or gas, and issued less than 60 days prior to the application
- W-2 from the most recent tax year
Any proof of residency submitted must include the name and address of the qualifying patient.
6. Proof of Age and Identity (see 5 above)
- Fingerprint Consent Form: (14)
- This form is found on page 3 of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Application for Qualifying Patient Registry Identification Card (the “patient application”). A direct link to this form is also available here. (15)
- This form should be completed within 30 days of submission of an appropriate application lodged with the IDPH.
- The form captures the information required by licensed live scan fingerprint vendors to ensure that fingerprints are submitted properly.
- A transaction control number (TCN) is issued by the live scan fingerprint vendor at the time of taking fingerprints. The TCN is verification that proper prints were taken for this purpose.
- The vendor must fill in the TCN on this consent form.
- The live scan vendor will use the applicant information to help confirm a patient’s identification documentation before fingerprints are taken.
- This form also serves as the applicant’s consent form.
- The form must be signed to authorize the release of any criminal records that may exist.
- The results of the criminal background check are forwarded to the IDPH for review.
8. Proof of Veteran Status (if applicable):
This process of proving veteran status (16) includes that a person must…
- Be an Illinois resident and provide two valid items proving residency.
- Have a qualifying debilitating medical condition as prescribed by the Act.
- Still provide relevant medical records from the VA facility for the last 12 months (as requested on VA Form 10-5345) even though a visit to a physician as required by non-veterans is not required.
- Provide a copy of their DD214 or equivalent certified document indicating character and dates of service.
- Complete the fingerprint-based background check.
- Not have been convicted of an excluded offense.
- Submit a non-refundable application fee with the signed Registry Identification Card Application to the IDPH’s Division of Medical Cannabis.
Veterans receiving health care at a VA facility do not need to provide a physician’s written certification.
9. Caregivers (if applicable):
With regard to caregivers (17) of those patients applying for registration for medical cannabis, here is important information to note:
- The applicable form is called the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Application for a Designated Caregiver Registry Identification Card.
- The caregiver must provide all necessary private and professional information.
- A caregiver is also obliged to submit a Fingerprint Consent Form (for details, see 7 above).
- A Designated Caregiver Registry Identification Card (18) also requires…
- A non-refundable fee of $25,
- Proof of age and identity,
- Proof of residency, and
- A fingerprint receipt.
The Process – Getting Started (Minors)
1. Same as the process for adults except for the following:
- No need to submit photo
- No need for fingerprint background check
2. A designated caregiver must be specified for a minor qualifying patient. Furthermore:
- A qualifying patient under 18 years of age may identify two designated caregivers if both biological parents or two legal guardians have significant decision-making responsibilities over the qualifying patient.
- If only one biological parent or legal guardian has significant decision-making responsibilities for the qualifying patient under 18 years of age, then a second designated caregiver may be identified.
Under Illinois law, (19) this includes persons who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six (6) months or less and who may therefore apply for a medical cannabis registry identification card valid for six months. There is no application fee.
Qualifying patients (adults and persons under 18) for this coverage must
- Be a resident of the State of Illinois at the time of application and remain a resident during participation in the program;
- Have been diagnosed with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six (6) months or less;
- Submit a complete application;
- Ensure that a physician completes and signs the physician confirmation of diagnosis of terminal illness, which includes the following requirements:
- The form must be signed in blue ink, and
- The in-person physical examination must take place within 90 days of the application submission date.
- Not hold a school bus permit or CDL;
- Not be an active duty law enforcement officer, correctional officer, correctional probation officer, or firefighter; and
- Select a caregiver, if desired (persons under age 18 may have two caregivers).
To obtain a patient registry identification card, a qualified applicant must satisfy all of the following requirements:
- Be an Illinois resident
- Have a debilitating medical condition
- Have submitted the correct Illinois application form as a qualifying patient for the cannabis registry identification card
- Have a physician certification form signed and completed by a physician
- Submit to a fingerprint-based background check
- Not have a conviction for certain excluded criminal offenses
- Be 18 years old or older
- Not hold a CDL or school bus permit
- Not be an active firefighter, correctional probation officer, correctional officer, or law enforcement officer
- Consider any other exceptions (e.g., with regard to a caregiver, a terminal illness, etc.)
Selecting a Medical Cannabis Dispensary
- Choosing an initial cannabis dispensary:
Once properly registered, a qualified cannabis patient must select a medical cannabis dispensary from which to purchase medical cannabis. This is done on the applicable Medical Cannabis Dispensary Selection Form. An updated list of registered dispensaries can be readily found here. (20)
- Changing a cannabis dispensary:
Should a patient wish to change his or her dispensary, (21) he or she will need to…
- Complete the applicable Medical Cannabis Dispensary Selection Form,
- Wait to be contacted by IDPH by phone or email once the new dispensary selection is processed, and
- Be able to enter the new dispensary 24 hours after receiving confirmation thereof from IDPH.
Remember: Any dispensary selections, including any changes thereto, can only be made through the IDPH.
Also remember: A qualified cannabis patient can only use one dispensary at any time.
Did You Know? Important Legal and Other Considerations of Note:
- Some medical marijuana patients will claim they have a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana, but marijuana prescriptions are, in fact, illegal. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Therefore, it is illegal for doctors (22) to prescribe marijuana to their patients.
- Furthermore, medical marijuana patients cannot go to a conventional pharmacy (23) to fill a prescription for medical marijuana. Instead, physicians in Illinois will supply patients with a medical marijuana recommendation in compliance with state law.
- According to Illinois law, an “adequate supply” (24) is specifically defined as “2.5 ounces of usable cannabis during a period of 14 days, derived solely from an intrastate source.”
- The cultivation of cannabis by Illinois patients and caregivers is strictly prohibited.
- Caregivers (25) may only serve one patient. They are permitted to pick up medicine for very ill, housebound patients. They, too, are subject to a possession limit.
- As of June 30, 2016, physicians are no longer required (26) to explicitly recommend cannabis therapy. Instead, physicians are required to certify only that there exists a bona fide doctor-patient relationship and that the patient possesses a qualifying, debilitating medical condition.
- Qualified patients in Illinois may choose to see a marijuana doctor online instead of in person using the telemedicine portal. (27) The applicable medical marijuana telemedicine doctor must first establish a bona fide relationship with the patient in-person, after which all follow-up visits may be conducted via a medical marijuana telemedicine service online.
- Dispensaries are expected to provide “counselling” (28) or at least information of some form to customers seeking to buy medical cannabis.
- There are a handful of lawsuits in the state challenging the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board’s denial of marijuana use for certain conditions. The lawsuits challenge the state’s decision to not include certain conditions as being “debilitating” and include osteoarthritis, autism, chronic postoperative pain, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic kidney disease, and intractable pain.
Limitations of the Industry in Illinois:
- There has been slower than expected growth (29) of patient numbers in Illinois. For example, Illinois marijuana companies are having to open in other states to expand their business. PharmaCann operates a cultivation facility and four dispensaries in New York and has been awarded a dispensary license in Maryland as well as developing a cultivation center and dispensary in Massachusetts. Cresco won a license to operate in Puerto Rico and has partnered with other companies in Massachusetts.
- Illinois’ cannabis program is considered one of the most restrictive in the country and has deterred many dispensaries from setting up shop in Chicago and elsewhere.
- Banks continue to resist (30) extending credit to companies dealing with medical marijuana for fear of possible non-compliance issues and possible money-laundering concerns. Illinois-based marijuana entrepreneurs are going elsewhere to raise loans and other lines of credit.
- There has been a struggle, too, in finding vendors (31) willing to work with marijuana-related companies.
- Stigma (32) continues to be attached to a substance that the federal government still classifies in the same class as heroin and LSD.
- There are also community stigma (33) concerns, e.g. fears that opening a dispensary would lead to a rise in crime, etc.
- There have been disposal issues (34) regarding cannabis plant waste in the state.
- There are palpable fears that the conservative Trump Administration (35) may stunt or even reverse the industry’s progress.
Interesting Facts and Figures
- According to the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, (36) there were 4,037 patients registered with the medical cannabis program in Illinois as of December 2016.
- There are 22 cultivation centers and 60 dispensaries (37) (51 of which were licensed as of September 2016) in Illinois.
- Marijuana has come a long way in public opinion. (38) The first ever Gallup poll on legalizing marijuana took place in 1969 with only 12% of those surveyed in favor of legalization. By 2010, the same Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans surveyed supported legalization. A Pew Research Center U.S. survey in 2013 showed that 52% supported legalization. By 2016, a Gallup poll showed that a record 60% of Americans were in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis.
Here is a list of the most important forms (39) relevant to ensuring compliance to existing Illinois medical marijuana legislation:
- Patient Application Form
- Caregiver Application Form
- Physician Certification Form
- Fingerprint Consent Form
- Reviewing Certification for Minors
- Waiver to Increase Adequate Supply
- Application for Patients with Terminal Illness
Applications and Further Information
Online applications are available (40) (as part of the “eLicense System”). Please note that applications for the terminally ill are not possible online.
Any questions that a patient or caregiver may have about the Illinois medical marijuana (cannabis) registration process can be directed to the DPH Division of Medical Cannabis: Tel: 855-636-3688 // e-mail: [email protected]
Patients may also print applications from mcpp.illinois.gov and mail them to the IDPH at
Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Medical Cannabis
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, IL 62761-0001
Frequently Asked Questions
Are my Firearms Owners ID (FOID) and Concealed Carry License (CCL) revoked when I become a registered medical cannabis patient?
No, there are no such restrictions. You retain those rights (and permits) as a registered medical cannabis patient.
I want to take a trip to visit family or friends in another state. May I take my medical cannabis with me?
If you are using medical cannabis or allied products that contain less than .3% THC, then you may transport them to another state. If your medicine contains more than .3% THC, you may not transport it at all (since it is still federally illegal to do so). The only exception is if the other state has a reciprocity agreement with Illinois regarding quantities of cannabis that may be brought into those states – make sure to enquire thoroughly about such states.
Can I transport my medical cannabis in my car?
You can carry it in the trunk of your car as long as the containers are sealed and have not been opened.
What restrictions are there on the usage of my medicine?
You are restricted in any of the following instances:
- On a school bus
- On the grounds of a preschool, primary school, high school or correctional facility
- In a public place
- In a private residence that is also a licensed childcare or social services facility
- Knowingly in close proximity to anyone under the age of 18
- If operating any type of motorized vehicle, motorboat or airplane while under the influence
- Using or possessing cannabis if you are not a registered patient or caregiver
- Allowing anyone who is not a registered patient to use your cannabis
- If you are a police officer, firefighter, corrections office or probation officer
- If you possess a school bus permit or CDL
Am I obliged to divulge that I use medical cannabis on my patient intake form when visiting a new doctor?
No, you are not obliged under law to do so. It may make sense to divulge your usage of medical cannabis as part of your patient profile and to allow your doctor to keep a thorough medical file on you. It could even be diagnostically beneficial to let them know. However, it is entirely at your discretion.
So, is it really true that my child as a minor can also be registered for medical cannabis?
Under current Illinois law your child must still have one or more of the debilitating medical conditions listed by the Illinois Department of Public Health that are a prerequisite to becoming a registered patient. That will mean that the parent/custodial parent or legal guardian of the qualifying patient under 18 years of age must be designated as the caregiver for the minor patient.
Where can I find a fingerprint vendor?
You can check the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s Fingerprint Vendors List (41) for a vendor in Illinois near you. Qualifying patients and/or their designated caregivers should call the fingerprint vendor in advance to confirm whether the vendor will fingerprint them. Remember to take the Uniform Conviction Information Act (UCIA) Fingerprint Consent Form with you.
Can I use a medical cannabis registry patient card from another state in Illinois?
No, you may not – the only cannabis registry patient card you can use is one that was issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for that purpose.