A little more than a year ago, Illinois became the 20th state to approve medical marijuana. On Tuesday, patients who qualified for medical marijuana, and whose last names began with the letters A through L, were allowed to sign up for a medical marijuana card (everyone else can sign up Nov. 1), which would give them access to dispensaries and their products. Jim Champion, an Army veteran who has struggled with multiple sclerosis since his 20s, will be among the first to get a card after years of obtaining the drug illegally.

Champion’s wife, Sandy, said that she plans to take a picture when he enters his first dispensary. “We’re ecstatic it’s finally coming here,” she told the Daily Chronicle late last month. “Our [application] envelopes will be sent on the first day. Pretty soon, we’re going to be standing at the next dispensary out here taking pictures. I just don’t know where.” And sure enough, Champion was among the first to apply for a card, which involved getting his fingerprints taken and undergoing a background check.

Though Illinois will have one of the strictest medical marijuana programs, only allowing 21 grow centers, Champion, who lobbied in support of medical marijuana last year, is enthusiastic about the program. “I’m proud our bill is as strict as it is to do away with fraud,” he told the Chronicle. “I don’t mind because I know they’re working hard. They’re working fast.”

Champion says that marijuana helped him to avoid taking over 50 prescription pills. Now, he smokes two joints per day and only takes six pills; three to control his spasms, two painkillers, and a sleeping pill when he needs it. When speaking to NBC Chicago, he said that the marijuana “would relax my muscles and my muscles wouldn’t tremor, so if they don’t tremor, then I wouldn’t have pain.”

Multiple sclerosis is a disabling disease that affects the central nervous system. It occurs when the immune system turns on the body and attacks the fatty substance surrounding the tips of nerves, called myelin, as well as the nerves themselves, disrupting communication between the brain and some body parts.

However, Champion sees the silver lining in his condition when he smokes marijuana. “You smile,” he said. “It’s not the worst thing in the world. You forget for a couple of minutes that you have a horrible disease. It’s a nice side effect.”