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Illinois has become the 20th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana after Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Thursday.
The new law is one of the strictest medical cannabis regulations in the nation. Its signing marks the launch of a four-year medicinal marijuana pilot program that will begin on January 1, 2014, reports the Chicago Tribune.
What are the protections and limits of this newly approved law?
Coverage for Chronic Conditions
Responding to criticisms of abuse of medical marijuana programs in other states, Illinois' program only allows coverage for someone suffering from one of 33 "serious or chronic conditions," including cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.
Even if you qualify under the new Illinois law, a patient is only entitled to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, and must have a "prior and ongoing medical relationship" with the doctor that prescribed the medical cannabis, reports the Tribune.
This is designed to prevent doctors from seeing patients for the first time and for the sole purpose of prescribing them legal medical weed.
Dispensaries and Federal Law
Like many other states with medical marijuana laws, Illinois will restrict the distribution of marijuana to state licensed dispensaries; qualified patients won't be able to grow their own medicine.
Licensed dispensaries and 22 cultivation centers are sanctioned under Illinois' new law, but even that will not protect them from being raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which still seeks to enforce federal classification of pot as an illegal substance.
Dispensaries in Washington state were raided in late July by DEA agents who seized thousands of dollars of state-legal medical cannabis. The raids left many patients wondering how effective state medical marijuana laws really are.
The new Illinois law also purports to offer protections for employees who are discriminated against based on their medical marijuana patient status. But it may not affect employers like Walmart, which has been successful in firing medical marijuana patients in Colorado, where both medical and recreational pot has been legalized.
Only time will tell whether this law achieves its goal in "provid[ing] a better quality of life" to suffering Illinoisans.