A new measure gives hope by dramatically expanding access to medical marijuana in Illinois, making it available as an opioid painkiller replacement and easing the application process for all who qualify. The epidemic of overdose deaths in Illinois from narcotics continues to rage, killing almost 2000 people in the state in 2016 and an estimated 72,000 people nationwide last year. This new law authorizes doctors to issue temporary medical marijuana cards for any patient who would qualify for prescriptions like OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin.
Governor Burce Rauner signed into law the Alternative to Opioids Act on Tuesday, allowing patients in the state to easily opt for medical marijuana instead of opiates, skipping the background and fingerprint checks that are typically required for medical marijuana patients in the state. This law is a powerful response to the nationwide growing epidemic.
The temporary identification cards will be valid for ninety days and can be extended by the patient’s physician. Bob Morgan, the former chief of the state’s medical marijuana program said the bill could potentially help tens of thousands of patients avoid using opiates by expediting the process. “It certainly does seem to have grown out of control,” Harmon told the Chicago Sun-Times after introducing the bill. “I know a lot of people are dying from heroin and opioid overdoses, and I don’t know of anyone who has died from a cannabis overdose.”
Research published in the journal JAMA earlier this year shows that states with medical marijuana programs have seen more than 2 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed under Medicare Part D each year. The same research showed that prescriptions for all opioids dropped by 3.7 million daily doses per year when medical marijuana dispensaries opened.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Heath said that cannabis use can be extremely effective for treating pain and can reduce opioid use. He cites the National Academy of Sciences review that found “substantial evidence” that marijuana is effective for treating chronic pain in adults, “and initiatives like this frankly just make sense,” Shah said. Shah says the elimination of background checks and fingerprinting for applicants goes into effect immediately and new patients may immediately get provisional approval to buy medical marijuana upon receiving receipt for payment from the state health department.
But it won’t be until Dec. 1st until all of the new ruls for the program are implemented, and will take until early next year to develop a new system to monitor the program to make sure that opioid replacement patients don’t go to multiple dispensaries and don’t buy marijuana for more than 90 days at a time without renewing permission with their doctor.
This new measure represents a tremendous step towards the availability of cannabis use throughout the entire nation.