Marijuana resource center opens doors

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by BRIAN NADIG

What could be the area’s first medical marijuana resource center opened last month in the Jefferson Park commercial district.

The Chicago Compassion Club opened in a medical building at 4955 N. Milwaukee Ave., which is located next to a pedestrian tunnel that leads to the north end of the Jefferson Park Metra station. The club, which is not a marijuana dispensary, also operates a center at 350 S. Northwest Hwy. in Park Ridge.

The center, which meets clients by appointment only, charges about $50 to help clients through the registration process under the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. The state is not expected to start accepting applications for medical marijuana identification cards until September, according to club manager Sal Ali, who held a similar position in Michigan when that state legalized medical marijuana.

The club was formed last year to help clients with the application process and to educate the public about the medical marijuana law. The center has a physician referral service for clients whose doctor does not support medical marijuana.

"Illinois has a very rigorous process to get certified for medical marijuana," Ali said. "In Illinois, you can’t just see a physician once. You must build a relationship with that doctor. There is a lot of confusion."

Before a physician referral is made, the club will review medical records to verify that a client has a medical condition that is covered by the state law. The center has an online medical release form which can help patients obtain a copy of their medical records.

Under the law, registered patients can obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Patients can apply for a waiver if their physician believes that a higher amount is needed.

Another goal of the center is to support petition drives and other campaign efforts which may lead to changes in the medical marijuana law, Ali said. While the law covers many debilitating medical conditions, epilepsy and some other serious diseases are not covered despite evidence that marijuana can help those patients, he said.

Conditions which are covered under the law include cancer, spinal cord injury, hepatitis C, glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, dystonia, traumatic brain injury, AIDS and neurofibromatosis.

In Illinois children are barred from being prescribed medical marijuana, but in some instances, children with serious medical conditions may be able to legally use hemp, which is does not produce a high, Ali said. Hemp is considered a variety of cannabis that is grown for the fiber and seeds that are used in food and industrial products.

Illinois law also bars law enforcement personnel, firefighters and commercial vehicle drivers from using medical marijuana.

The club is a licensed corporation in Illinois, but long-term plans call for the center to operate as a nonprofit organization, Ali said.


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