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Illinois will not expand its medical marijuana program to cover patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

Illinois Governor Bruce RaunerGov. Bruce Rauner announced in September that he would not allow an expansion of the program and would veto legislation seeking to expand it. Rauner said the state’s MMJ program is still too young to add new conditions “before we have had the chance to evaluate it.”

A bill passed by the Illinois Legislature would have added PTSD and 10 other disorders to the current list of conditions covered by MMJ. That list includes cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, among other diseases.

Illinois MMJ program delayed

Illinois started its medical cannabis program in 2014 under then-Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat. But the program has been delayed several times, so farmers have only recently started growing crops. The first dispensary received a license in August, and patients won’t have access to the drug until late 2015 or early 2016.

“No patients have yet been served, and, consequently, the state has not had the opportunity to evaluate the benefits and costs of the pilot program or determine areas for improvement or even whether to extend the program beyond its pilot period,” said Rauner, a Republican.

The state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended earlier this year that 11 conditions be added to the list, most notably PTSD. This trauma-induced disorder comes with flashbacks, severe anxiety, and frequent substance abuse.

Many veterans suffer PTSD

PTSD is common among combat veterans and other people who have experienced severe trauma. It afflicts survivors of natural disasters, victims of violent crime, and war refugees, among many other people.

Substantial scientific evidence suggests marijuana may be useful in treating PTSD. Among other benefits, cannabis has memory-inhibiting properties that could reduce flashbacks and panic attacks. The drug also has a calming effect that can sooth chronic anxiety.

But states have been slow to add the condition to their medical marijuana lists. Several states have done so, but others, like Illinois, have rejected efforts to list PTSD.

Rauner’s veto statement coincided with a decision by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which he controls, that it would not add PTSD. That means veterans and other sufferers will be left without legal access to an effective medication.

Vets have access to medical marijuana in 12 states

Marijuana PlantBetween 11 and 20 percent of all veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with 15 percent of Vietnam veterans, experience PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Twelve states have legalized the medical use of marijuana to treat it.

The VA officially refutes the science behind cannabis as a treatment for PTSD, saying there have not been enough controlled studies to determine the drug’s safety or effectiveness. Veterans have recently gained new rights related to the VA and medical marijuana, but most still find it hard to use MMJ within the VA system.

Rauner has generally been hostile to medical cannabis in Illinois, threatening to disband the program before it gets off the ground. He used his veto powers in August to change legislation that would have extended the program by several years, instead allowing only a four-month extension. MMJ suppoters say they’re negotiating with the governor to save the program.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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