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Marijuana in Illinois Nursing Homes: An Issue on the Horizon

After much debate, Illinois passed a law last year that allows for a limited roll-out of a project to legalize medical marijuana. But passing the law was only the first step in the process, and months have been spent addressing all of the detailed rules and regulations regarding how the policy will be implemented and enforced.

Believe it or not, nursing homes in Illinois may be at the forefront of the rollout.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Law
Late last month the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) released draft regulations for the new law. While not yet finalized, the regulations list specific rules for use of medical marijuana, including the need for special IDs, background checks, fingerprinting, and fees for a license. Other logistics outlined in the rules require a “bona fide physician-patient relationship” and that specific records be maintained by doctors. Also, all cultivation centers must remain open for inspection by the IDPH.

The state statute legalizing medical marijuana in a limited capacity gave the Department up to April to finalize the rules. As it now stands, the public is free to view the current draft regulations and offer comments.

The application process itself is not set to start until later in the year. To control the expected high demand, those with last names from A to L can apply in September and October. Patients with last names in the second half of the alphabet would apply in November and December.

Illinois Nursing Home Response
Even though many of the state regulatory details remain only preliminary, some nursing homes are grappling with how to handle the new law. After all, many residents in nursing homes may have injuries and ailment that qualify them to take advantage of relief from medical marijuana.

The rules explicitly allow caregivers who are providing support to those who qualify for use of medical marijuana to obtain it from a dispensary on behalf of a patient. This is essentially no different than caregivers who currently obtain prescription drugs on behalf of residents who are not able to physically obtain the material themselves due to mental or physical ailments.

But how will long-term care facilities balance this option with their general need to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all residents in the facility?

As discussed in a new Star Courier story, one local facility, Hillcrest Home, is examining the proposed rules closely to determine how they will respond internally. Caregivers understand that a range of issues must be resolved including whether any type of ingestion will be allowed (oral vs. smoking), how material will be stored, and potential federal funding implications from allowing use of medical cannabis.

Nothing was yet finalized by the home, but it is a reminder of the unique challenges that long-term care facilities must tackle with this issue. No matter what, facilities must properly balance the rights of residents to receive the full use of treatment options available to help in their care allowed under the law while still ensuring a safe and secure living experience for all residents.

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