Chicago hospital wants to become state’s first legal medical marijuana dispensary location


Officials at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital say they want to be the first legal medical marijuana dispensary in the state. Illinois approved a medical cannabis “pilot program” in 2013, allowing for hospitals in the state to act as legal pot dispensaries. So far, none have shown much interest and medical cannabis sales aren’t likely to begin until next year at the earliest.
“We have professionals who very much would like to prescribe those drugs, we have the system in place to manage it and we have the patient population that needs it,” Marcia Jimenez, director of intergovernmental affairs for Swedish, told the Sun-Times. “It just made a lot of sense.

The state will eventually issue as many as 60 permits for dispensaries with 13 dispensaries in Chicago alone. Swedish officials say they want to be among the first, however they say they are reluctant to move forward until they can be assured that any federal aid they currently receive will not be jeopardized. Jimenez says Swedish is actively lobbying Congress to make the needed changes.
“If the hospital were to become a dispensary at this point, we would be violating the federal law and jeopardizing reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid,” said Jimenez. “It’s not something the hospital could risk and still stay financially viable. So we’re outspoken about it. We think hospitals are the best choice for dispensing. Unless someone speaks up, we’re not going to be able to change the federal law.”
Oncologists (cancer doctors) at Swedish are excited by the prospect of being able to offer their chemo patients cannabis to help deal with nausea and pain. They already hear enough about medical pot use as it is, says Jeff Cilley, an oncologist at Swedish.
“There’s an incredible interest from a lot of patients,” the doctor said. “I’ve had patients that have traveled out of state to try to experiment and see.”
If they get that go-ahead, Swedish would be the first hospital in the country with that distinction.
Another issue holding them back are regulations in state law requiring dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school. Currently, Swedish is next door to a school, but hospital directors say they have asked the state for an exemption.
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