Who's Advocating For Medical Marijuana Patients?

Nov 9, 2015

Today’s the day for many medical marijuana patients in Illinois. As many as eight dispensaries around the state are scheduled to open as the next chapter of legalizing medical marijuana begins.

Only around 33-hundred people have been granted medical cannabis licenses by state regulators. That’s one reason people in the industry have been coordinating informational meetings about how to apply. Last Wednesday, one such forum was held in Rockford.

No pictures, please.

Organizers of the event at Giovanni’s banquet facility wanted to protect the privacy of the 70 or so people who had turned out to learn more about the process of becoming a medical cannabis in Illinois, the state with the toughest requirements for acquiring a license to buy.

Amy Manganelli organized the forum: she’s the Chief Operating Officer for Mapleglen Care Center, a dispensary in Rockford. 

“If some doctor hangs a shingle and says ‘I am Dr. Weed, come on in here and bring your certifying form,’ that’s not happening. That’s not what the state wants, that’s not what we want.”

Mapleglen Care Center in Rockford
Credit photo courtesy of Mapleglen Care Center

Manganelli says she gets dozens of calls a day from people who need help applying for a medical marijuana license…it’s not easy. So far, 26-thousand applications have been rejected by the state. She says she doesn’t know what’s missing in those rejected applications, but she has a pretty good guess: the physician certification form.

Doctor, Doctor

Feliza Castro says the biggest roadblock is having a doctor who won’t certify the patient. So she founded The Healing Clinic in Chicago to help people find a doctor, connect them with designated caregivers, and act as advocates. Castro has been a medical marijuana patient herself in two other states, so saw the need for advocacy in Illinois. “

"It’s definitely more extensive. It’s the first state where I had to provide a two by two photo, the first state where the physician had to fill out a four page certification and provide their DEA registration number and their medical license number on the certification. I think that’s another reason physicians are deterred from filling out these forms. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a background check required of patients.”

Looking for relief

Castro says she thinks the bright side of Illinois’ intense regulation is the quality and consistency that can be expected of the medications. And that’s important to Nicole Keller of Durand. She has suffered from Arnold Chiari Malformation for years. It’s one of 39 qualifying conditions. The lower part of her cerebellum pushes into her spinal column, causing sleep issues, headaches, memory issues, brain fog, and migraines.

Keller says surgery hasn’t helped and the side effects of her medications are becoming worse than the disease. She wants to try medical marijuana. Until then, she has to settle for a shot of Dilaudid when her headaches become unbearable…and she can’t even get a prescription for that. She has to visit the emergency room, which means finding a ride home and someone to babysit her children, “instead of actually being able to manage my pain on my own and live…live life. Instead of just getting by, laying in bed, and crying. And telling the kids I’m sorry I can’t play ball with you. I have another headache.”

Keller hasn’t applied for medical marijuana certification yet: she wanted to make sure she had answers to her questions first.

And that’s the all-important first step, according to Mapleglen Care Center’s Amy Manganelli. She’s afraid that good old-fashioned Midwestern politeness will keep people from seeking second opinions if their general practitioner says no. She says ask questions, do your homework, educate yourself, then tell your doctor.

Mapleglen Care Center will NOT be open today. Manganelli says her facility in Rockford is scheduled for its final inspection by the state later this week. She still plans to be in the first wave of dispensaries. And she says she is proud that her company is an Illinois group that didn’t partner with companies that are already up and running in California and Colorado.