Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 2, 2013

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law that will make the Land of Lincoln the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. In doing so, Illinois becomes the second state in as many weeks to legalize the drug's use for therapeutic purposes as New Hampshire enacted a similar law on July 23. The Illinois measure becomes effective January 1, 2014, and will not prevent employers from barring marijuana use for any reason within their workplaces.

The new law institutes a four-year pilot program and permits marijuana use for medicinal purposes by registrants with one of 42 named ailments or diseases, including:

  • Cancer;
  • Lou Gehrig's disease;
  • Multiple Sclerosis; and
  • AIDS.

Qualified patients may obtain up to two-and-a-half ounces of medical marijuana from one of 60 state-licensed dispensaries provided they have a special identification card. In order to prescribe medical marijuana, a doctor must have an ongoing relationship with the patient.

Notable Restrictions

The law's chief sponsor said the measure aims to help veterans and others suffering from chronic conditions. But the issue was not without controversy in Illinois as it passed the state House by just four votes and with a number of restrictions.

For instance, users, growers and sellers will be subject to criminal background checks and fingerprinting under the law. Additionally, it provides for 24-hour video surveillance of all growing centers and prohibits home-growing marijuana operations.

Opponents of the Illinois law expressed concern about encouraging the drug's recreational use. Currently, Colorado and Washington are the only states to permit such use for individuals 21 and older. But even in those states, employers remain free to prohibit marijuana use in the workplace.

A recent XpertHR podcast examines the trend of state marijuana legalization laws and what they mean for employer drug testing policies as well as workplace accommodations. Four other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota have legislation pending that could legalize medical marijuana. Federal law continues to ban marijuana use, whether for medicinal purposes or otherwise.