Medical marijuana card holders in McHenry County criticize state’s attorney’s pot stance

Users with medical cards speak about their personal experiences

Lori Fisher and Kerri Connor, who hold medical marijuana cards, tend to the Connors marijuana plants on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023 at Connor's home in Ringwood. They disagree with McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally's assertion that marijuana does not have medical value.

Lori Fisher of Spring Grove said she uses medical marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and pain after she survived a head-on collision.

For Fisher, marijuana “is a tool that when used correctly allows you to function appropriately,” she said.

Fisher’s personal experience with marijuana, along with two other medical marijuana users interviewed by the Northwest Herald, are at odds with the public stance McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally took last week.

Kenneally said this month that there is no proven medical benefit to marijuana use, and he does not want the county’s recreational dispensaries saying otherwise to their customers. Instead, Kenneally said, there are health risks associated with marijuana use, and state regulatory agencies have not sufficiently warned consumers about marijuana. He criticized Illinois officials for not taking what he considers appropriate actions.

“As such, it has fallen to local government agencies to protect consumers,” he said in a statement.

Kenneally also threatened to sue marijuana dispensaries if they do not remove references to the medical benefits of marijuana from their marketing and add signage “to warn customers of the mental health dangers associated with use, including psychosis, depression and suicidal ideation.”

Kenneally announced that dispensaries “will be prohibited from making false claims that cannabis has any medical benefits in their product marketing materials and online content.” He has come to an agreement to that end with two of the four marijuana dispensaries in McHenry County, Kenneally said.

The three McHenry County residents with medical marijuana cards, however, disagreed with Kenneally’s stance. So did state Sen. Cristina Castro, chairwoman of the Illinois General Assembly’s Subcommittee on Cannabis.

I would never say medical marijuana is the solution for all human suffering.”

—  Monika Juszczyk, a medical marijuana-prescribing doctor from Compassionate Clinics of America

Illinois began allowing people with qualifying conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes 10 years ago before legalizing recreational marijuana as of Jan. 1, 2020. Since then, marijuana dispensaries have proliferated across the state.

McHenry County currently has four recreational marijuana dispensaries open: one each in Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake, Cary and Richmond. Two more are expected before the end of the year: a second Crystal Lake location and one in McHenry.

The three McHenry County residents offered their own experiences of using marijuana to treat pain associated with their conditions.

“[Kenneally’s] information is 20,000 years out of date, but OK,” Kerri Connor. said The Ringwood resident said she uses her Illinois Medical Marijuana card to treat her rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and ankylosing spondylitis, as well as the after-effects of a 2015 breast cancer diagnosis.

Fisher’s use – for treating pain associated with an earlier car crash – also was echoed by Nicole Vaughn of Wonder Lake, who said she has rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia diagnoses.

In addition to being a medical marijuana card holder, Vaughn runs a marijuana marketing company and works with the Compassionate Clinics of America to help people find “a doctor on staff willing to help file the paperwork” to receive the medical marijuana card, she said.

Of the three card holders interviewed, Connor was the only one who did not regularly use recreational marijuana before it was legalized for medical use in Illinois. But after “13 years on opiates,” she turned to marijuana, Connor said.

She’s found that marijuana helps with the inflammation surrounding her diagnoses, Connor said.

“Just what it does for swelling, how it brings down inflammation … that is huge,” Connor said, adding later that “the biggest medical problem people suffer from is inflammation.”

Connor said the drug she was put on to prevent a recurrence of her breast cancer – and the drug given to protect her bone density from that drug – caused her to lose teeth. She said that since using marijuana, she’s stopped losing teeth.

“Weed helps keep the inflammation down and my teeth in,” Connor said.

She’s since written books about marijuana and spirituality, including “Wake, Bake and Meditate.”

Castro, an Elgin Democrat, pointed to Ashley’s Law, which allows medical marijuana on school grounds, as an example of the medical use of cannabis.

The law, signed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, was named for Ashley Surin of Schaumburg, who uses a CBD oil to treat epilepsy caused by previous cancer treatment.

Castro said she keeps in contact with Surin’s family and reported that she is doing well using the CBD treatment.

“To sit there and say there is no medical benefit ... I don’t know if he has even asked people how medical cannabis affects them,” Castro said.

Much of what is happening now with marijuana as a treatment for any condition is experiential, not experimental, said Monika Juszczyk, a Pennsylvania-based doctor who certifies Illinois patients for medical marijuana cards with the Compassionate Clinics of America.

What she sees is people finding, on their own, that the combination of THC and/or CBD or other components of marijuana helps whatever their diagnosis may be, Juszczyk said. Some users smoke marijuana, others ingest gummies, others tinctures – a type of marijuana extract – and they experiment to find the right combination, Juszczyk said

The results they find are “not from the books,” Juszczyk said. “It comes from people and real-life experience.”

Marijuana also is not a panacea for all ills, Juszczyk said.

“I would never say medical marijuana is the solution for all human suffering,” Juszczyk said. “Research is limited. We know there are different calculations [and] data, and statistical analyses are not 100% objective.”