GRAYSLAKE – Caprice Sweatt was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease 30 years ago and has been surgery and prescription-free for the last decade – because of medical marijuana, she said.
The Colorado resident is on a mission to educate as many people as possible about its benefits, now spending a lot of time in Illinois.
Sweatt is a legal medical cannabis patient in Colorado, but she and her husband Eric relocated to Illinois shortly after the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, to become patient advocates. She even assisted in writing a winning dispensary application for Salveo in Canton, Illinois.
Since April, Sweatt and her husband have been hosting free, informative seminars throughout the state, representing themselves as Medical Cannabis Outreach, for which Sweatt is founder and CEO.
“I’m on a mission to help people of Illinois come out and get on this program and get themselves a safe, legal alternative. I could not believe in this any more,” Sweatt said. “You’ve got sick people who are risking jail time. That has to stop.”
Having the conversation
Through Medical Cannabis Outreach, patients and caregivers can get information about how Illinois’ medical marijuana pilot program works, how they might qualify and how to talk to their doctor – something Sweatt said "isn’t happening enough."
“There’s a disconnect between patients and doctors, and doctors and the program,” Sweatt said. “Honestly, most of them [doctors] don’t even know one thing about it. Patients need to tell their doctors, ‘I demand you listen to me. These pills are making me sick and I want a legal, safe alternative.’”
Sweatt said she would love to have doctors attend her seminars to learn more and help rid the medical community of the suspicion and controversy that surrounds medical marijuana, but it’s slow going.
“They’re afraid," Sweatt said. "Big pharmaceutical looms over doctors.”
Under the Illinois law, a doctor can give a potential medical marijuana patient a recommendation, not a prescription. Once the patient has this recommendation, they can begin the state’s application process to obtain a medical marijuana card. With that card, the patient or caregiver can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks through a state-licensed dispensary.
Lake County will have three of these dispensaries — PDI Medical in Buffalo Grove, Northshore Alternative Therapy in Highland Park and GTI Clinic Illinois Holdings in Mundelein.
“Things are ramping up,” Sweatt said. “Medicine is growing in the state right now. Dispensaries are going to open in October and November [and] that’s why we want to get as many people on the program as we can to support the dispensaries and cultivation centers.”
To date, the state has approved about 2,800 medical marijuana patients for a four-year, four-month pilot program.
“They thought it’d be 200,000,” Sweatt said, adding the problem is not with the state being slow to approve applications, it’s doctors not recommending patients for the program.
“I’m very happy with the state," Sweatt said. "I turned in an application for a patient on Aug. 7 and they got approved in a week.”
Medical Cannabis Outreach assists patients free of charge in helping them through the application process, though the state does charge an application fee and requires the patient to have fingerprints taken.
“We’ve got the application process down to a science,” Sweatt said. “Nobody in the state is doing this, and no one in the state is doing what we’re doing as far as traveling around and doing educational seminars.”
At a seminar at the Comfort Inn in Grayslake on Aug. 18, potential medical marijuana patient Daniel Bochiczhio, 56, said he takes 32 prescription pills a day, four times a day. He suffers from numerous conditions including spinal stenosis, sciatica, chronic arthritis, neuropathy in both knees and diabetes.
Given the number of pills he takes, and the even higher number of dangerous side effects, Bochiczhio said he’s ready to talk to his doctor about qualifying for the use of medical marijuana as an alternative.
“I’m constantly in back pain,” he said. “I told my back doctor I’m tired of her looking at me and just saying go to therapy, because it doesn’t work. I’m never relieved of pain. Everything hurts.”
The state’s list of qualifying conditions for the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis program includes AIDS/HIV, cancer, Crohn’s disease, severe fibromyalgia, MS, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal chord disease and more. The state is currently considering 11 additional conditions such as anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has the complete list of qualifying conditions listed on its website under frequently asked questions. More information about the program can also be found at www.dph.illinois.gov.
IF YOU GO:
Medical Cannabis Outreach has the following free seminars scheduled in Lake County:
6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Foss Park District, 1730 Lewis Ave., North Chicago
10 a.m. Aug. 29 at Libertyville Sports Complex, 1950 N. Highway 45, Libertyville
Call 224-281-0888 or "like" Medical Cannabis Outreach on Facebook for more information. A website, www.medicalcannabisoutreach.com, is coming soon.