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Rauner Blocks Another Bid To Expand Medical Marijuana In Illinois

CHICAGO (AP) -- For the second time in five months, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signaled his distaste for broadening the state's new medical marijuana program, declining to add chronic pain and seven other health conditions to the list of diseases that can be treated with the drug.

The Department of Public Health announced the decision Friday, spurning recommendations of an expert advisory board largely appointed by the governor's predecessor, Democrat Pat Quinn.

The expert panel reviewed medical evidence and listened to patient testimony before recommending the eight conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects many military veterans. Other conditions recommended but rejected Friday were autism, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis and four pain syndromes.

New conditions would have meant adding more customers to a faltering industry. Regulated medical marijuana sales began Nov. 9 in Illinois, but just 4,000 patients have state approval to buy the drug at licensed dispensaries.

Supporters hoped that after nearly three months of regulated sales, Rauner would have looked more kindly at the program. Industry groups and patient advocates had used a social media campaign to urge people to telephone the governor's office in support of the eight conditions, and some delivered thousands of signatures to Springfield this week and held a rally.

In September, the governor vetoed legislation that would have added PTSD and his administration rejected 11 medical conditions recommended by the panel. At the time, he said in a veto message that it would be "premature to expand the pilot program -- before any patient has been served and before we have had the chance to evaluate it."

Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold echoed that Friday in an email, saying the program was still in an early stage: "At this time, it is premature to expand the pilot program before there is the ability to evaluate it under the current statutory requirements."

Dr. Nirav Shah, the state's public health chief and a Rauner appointee, thanked the medical cannabis advisory board for its work.

"Twice in a row, this is getting to be insulting, especially for our patients who are suffering," said board chair Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, who said she would meet with Shah next week to get his feedback. "The expertise of the board, the patient testimonies and evidence presented, as well as other states' precedents, made our recommendations reasonable."

Gold-standard research on medical marijuana's efficacy has been blocked by federal barriers, though evidence that the drug is effective for chronic pain is fairly strong.

Rauner's stance is being challenged in court. Five Illinois residents filed lawsuits seeking to expand the program to cover health conditions rejected in September.

Lisa Arquilla's lawsuit seeks to add polycystic kidney disease. Three others filed lawsuits as anonymous "John Does," looking to use marijuana for chronic post-operative pain, irritable bowel syndrome and migraines.

Military veteran Daniel Paul Jabbs, 34, has PTSD following service in Iraq. His lawsuit seeks to get his condition added to the list.

"I'm flabbergasted," Jabbs said Friday. "I think (Rauner) is intentionally stalling the program. ... He's putting politics before people."

The Illinois medical marijuana law, enacted before Rauner's election, authorizes a four-year pilot program that expires at the end of 2017.

The law lists 39 conditions and diseases that can qualify a patient to use medical marijuana with a doctor's signature, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.

(© 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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