The state’s fledgling medical cannabis program has 19 giant cultivation sites, located across Illinois. But those sites serve only about 11,000 patients. That averages about 578 patients for each football-field sized greenhouse growing product.
You would think they would want every patient they could get. But Barbara Schneider says she has been waiting for her medical cannabis card for over five months. And she can’t seem to get anyone to respond to her inquiries.
“Why does the state have this program if they make it so hard to get what they need?” she asks.
Schneider, who goes by Babs, says she was first diagnosed with cancer 9 years ago. After believing she had beaten the disease, she had a recurrence 2 years ago and is now undergoing chemotherapy treatment for stage 4 breast cancer.
“They say if nothing’s getting bigger, that’s good,” she notes. “The side effects I have are extreme fatigue, and nausea.”
Like many patients, Schneider learned that marijuana can work wonders with those side effects, and she has been using it, illegally to relieve her symptoms. But the Illinois Medical Cannabis program allows certified patients to buy the drug legally, and she wants to take part.
“I want to use it legally,” she notes.
So last May Schneider applied, and submitted her fingerprints for a background check. But for five months she’s been waiting. And waiting some more.
Schneider says she was first told that her prints were rejected as unreadable, and she had to have a second set taken.
“They weren’t clear enough,” she says. “At one point, I was told I don’t have fingerprints!”
After being rejected again, Schneider was told to give her information for a manual background check, which she did. And she’s been waiting ever since.
“I started calling every day and no one ever answered the phone,” she says. “I got voice mail and left messages, but no one ever called me back.”
Asked why it is taking so long for Schneider to get her card, Health Department Melaney Arnold insisted the state has no backlog in applicants, and that all agencies involved continue to work “to improve the pilot program and implement quality improvements to processes and procedures.”
“There are many factors that can extend the amount of time it takes to process an application,” Arnold said in an email to NBC5 Investigates. “For example, if documentation is missing or incorrect; when IDPH receives the physician certification; when IDPH receives fingerprint background check results.”
“Please note that a name-based background check takes longer to complete than a fingerprint background check,” she added.
Arnold said IDPH processes between 1,000 and 1,200 applications every month.
And Ms. Schneider?
Following our inquiries, Arnold insisted that the Health Department had received approval from her background check on September 27th, and that she should be receiving a card “any day now.” And indeed, late Tuesday, a card arrived.
Schneider says she still would like to know why the process is so lengthy for people who need the medicine to improve their quality of life.
“Nobody should have to wait five months,” she said.
“I’ve never even had a traffic ticket,” she says. “I don’t understand why a background check should take so long, and if it’s happening to me, it’s happening to a lot of other people.”