Army veteran Jim Champion is among the first Illinoisans to sign up for a state program allowing the legal purchase of medical marijuana.
People with last names beginning with letters A through L were allowed to sign up starting Tuesday for a medical marijuana card, with everyone else able to apply on Nov. 1.
Champion, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was among those who went to Springfield to lobby lawmakers to pass the bill.
"I felt vindicated. I felt wow, they were listening to me," Champion said.
Champion was diagnosed with MS in his 20s, and since then, his condition had steadily worsened. He says one day a relative suggested he try smoking marijuana to ease the effects of the disease.
"It would relax my muscles and my muscles wouldn't tremor, so if they don't tremor then I wouldn't have pain," Champion said.
Champion says for several years his wife, Sandy, had to find illegal ways to buy the marijuana.
"You can't call the police and say, 'Yea, my wife wants to buy some marijuana, can you go check on her for me,'" Champion said.
Now he's hoping he can soon go to a dispensary to get what he needs, whether it's edible food laced with marijuana, or marijuana cigarettes, which he says helps him most.
People who qualify for a medical marijuana card won't be able to get the drug until at least spring.
Illinois' medical marijuana law is considered one of the most restrictive in the nation with a maximum number of 21 cultivation centers allowed in the state. State bureaucrats have yet to approve and license the growers and sellers.
Under the law, adopted by lawmakers in 2013, patients must have a prescription from their physician and get a background check. The state must respond to a completed application within 30 days.
"I did my fingerprinting and background check last week and we got that out of the way and they haven't arrested me yet," Champion said.
Sheila Porter, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, says the agency was expecting the number of applicants to run into the thousands over the next four months.
Last week, officials posted application forms for aspiring medical marijuana businesses. The period to submit them for a limited number of permits opens on Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 22.