IL: In the State of High Rise Buildings and the Bears, Where Does Med Marijuana Stand?


By Dara Barney

This is the next article in's “Comp and Cannabis” series, as Editor Dara Barney explores medical marijuana legislation state-by-state, and what it means regarding workers' compensation.


Known for the tallest building in North America, the Sears Tower, the state of Illinois has already set high standards. But what local laws and guidelines apply when it comes to medical marijuana?

Rick Steves, a known PBS TV travel guide that treks across Europe, took to the spotlight this week in a press conference with local legislators in Chicago to push a state legalization bill for the drug. He told attendees that people who consume marijuana are doing it anyway, so why not tax and regulate it, writes Robert McCoppin of the Chicago Tribune. Recognizing the drug can be abused, he also said laws might be more restrictive toward the less fortunate and people of color.

While recreational use in Illinois is still illegal, Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Director Jack Campbell told via email that the pilot program for medical use became effective in 2014. A total of 41 medical conditions qualify, and the list in its entirety can be found here.

Whitney Barnes, public information officer at the Illinois Dept. of Insurance, said the pilot program is currently scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2020, per the program text. 

“The Illinois Department of Public Health oversees the patient application and approval process. Cultivation centers are regulated by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and dispensaries are regulated by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation,” Campbell said.

Some state doctors are advocating the drug as an alternative treatment to opioids, McCoppin writes in another article from this month. “…Illinois’ medical community has been somewhat reluctant to publicly embrace medical marijuana in the two years since the state’s first dispensaries opened,” he writes.

“But some physicians say the matter has taken on added urgency as the nation sinks deeper into an opioid crisis involving both prescription drugs, and heroin and its synthetic analogs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are 40 prescription opioid deaths a day, Illinois health officials have warned it’s the most dangerous public health issue facing the state and President Donald Trump has declared opioid addiction a public health emergency.”

Surgeon Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph said big-time surgeries sometimes do need an opioid prescription up to two months post-op, but patients should be able to use medical marijuana as a longterm treatment, according to the article. A group of local doctors will push a new bill that will allow patients with an opioid prescription to use cannabis as an alternative treatment. 

“…Such a change could vastly expand the program, which now has only about 27,000 participants. Currently there are about 40 specific conditions, including cancer and AIDS, that qualify sufferers to apply to use medical marijuana,” writes McCoppin. But pushback still exists, especially since marijuana is still illegal federally.

But what does all of this mean for injured workers? 

“…The application does not require the applicant to include workers’ compensation or injury information,” according to Campbell, who referenced the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (410 ILCS 130/40): “…(d) Nothing in this Act may be construed to require a government medical assistance program, employer, property and casualty insurer, or private health insurer to reimburse a person for costs associated with the medical use of cannabis.” 

And as far as drug use and the workplace (410 ILCS 130/50): “…(b) Nothing in this Act shall prohibit an employer from enforcing a policy concerning drug testing, zero-tolerance, or a drug free workplace provided the policy is applied in a nondiscriminatory manner. (c) Nothing in this Act shall limit an employer from disciplining a registered qualifying patient for violating a workplace drug policy.”

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