A sign with a green cross directs customers to the entrance of The Health Center, a cannabis dispensary in Denver. (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Illinois appeals adding ‘pain’ as medical marijuana qualifying condition

CHICAGO — The Illinois Department of Public Health has appealed a decision to add severe pain as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in a case that could greatly expand access to the drug in the state.

The appeal filed Thursday comes weeks after a Cook County judge ordered the health department to add “intractable pain,” or severe and constant pain with no cure, to the list of more than 40 qualifying medical conditions.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Ann Mednick of Rolling Meadows. The 58-year-old petitioned the agency to add the condition, saying medical marijuana would have fewer side effects to treat pain for sacroiliac joint dysfunction and osteoarthritis than the opioids she’s been prescribed.

“Opioids have wreaked havoc on my life and I want nothing to do with them,” she wrote in a Friday opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times. “Cannabis can ease pain without any of those side effects.”

Public Health Director Nirav Shah denied Mednick’s request last year, saying there was a “lack of high-quality data” from clinical trials to add the condition to the list. But Cook County Circuit Judge Raymond Mitchell called Nirav’s reasoning “clearly erroneous,” citing medical journals that reviewed 45 clinical studies looking at medical marijuana’s effect on treating chronic pain.

Health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold declined to comment Friday, citing pending litigation.

The issue has come up elsewhere.

Five states list “intractable pain” as a qualification for a medical card: Arkansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia. In California, which has one of the nation’s most expansive medical marijuana programs, the drug can be prescribed to any debilitating illness a physician sees fit.

Illinois first approved a medical marijuana pilot program in 2013. Last year, post-traumatic stress disorder was added to the list of qualifying conditions.