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State

Illinois doctors travel to help patients get medical marijuana

AP file photo
Marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest are seen Sept. 15, 2015, in the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion.
AP file photo Marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest are seen Sept. 15, 2015, in the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion.

SPRINGFIELD – Some Illinois doctors are traveling to Springfield to help residents enroll in the state’s medical marijuana program.

Dr. David Footerman of Rockford began seeing patients seeking medical marijuana last month at an office complex in Springfield, and Chicago-based internist Dr. Mauricio Consalter has been seeing such patients in Bloomington, The State Journal-Register reported.

Medical marijuana advocates in Illinois said doctors’ willingness to help patients remains the biggest hurdle to long-term success for the pilot program. The program’s enrollment since fall 2014 stands at 18,300, and the number of potential enrollees is believed to be two to five times higher.

HSHS Medical Group CEO Dr. Loren Hughes said he believes the number of doctors willing to fill out paperwork required by the state for patients with one of 40 qualifying chronic medical conditions will continue to grow.

“The longer that something’s around, the more likely attitudes will change,” he said.

Amanda Davis, a 31-year-old resident of rural Coles County, drove nearly two hours to visit with Footerman in Springfield.

“He’s very knowledgeable,” Davis said of Footerman, who previously specialized in anesthesiology. “He’s doing it from his heart.”

Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, said Springfield isn’t the only community where doctors are traveling to help patients obtain medical marijuana.

“I think it’s meeting a demand that’s out there,” Linn said.

A statement by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation in 2013 said state law doesn’t permit “ ‘medical cannabis clinics’ or practices that exist solely to offer cannabis certifications.”

Medical marijuana advocates said the department’s rules on this issue are vague, and decisions on whether to seek disciplinary action have been unpredictable.

Chris Stone, chief executive officer of Health Central Illinois Alternatives, which operates Illinois-regulated dispensaries for medical marijuana in Collinsville and Springfield, said generally doesn’t approve of out-of-town doctors certifying local patients.

“It’s bad for our industry. It’s bad for doctors in general,” Stone said. “I hope they are spending some time to know the community so it’s not just a fly-by-night operation.”

Stone said he’d prefer that local doctors meet the area’s demand. He said his organization is working to educate the medical community about medical marijuana.

“There are definitely some doctors who are fully resistant to it,” Stone said. “There are some doctors who are being educated and realize the benefit to patients.”

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