Medicinal Cannabis Can Now Replace Opioid Medications In Illinois

Cannabis as opioid medication replacement in Illinois
Image: Jarmoluk

Illinois has again demonstrated its changing attitudes to cannabis, with Governor Bruce Rauner signing the Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018 yesterday.

While Gov. Rauner is known for his anti-recreational marijuana attitudes, it’s a different story in relation to using cannabis for medical applications.

“This law will give thousands of Illinoisans who struggle with the negative side effects of opioids, including harmful addiction, another choice to manage their pain,” said the Governor. “This is not about personal opinions about cannabis. It’s about giving people more control over their own health care and pain-relief options.”

In order to be eligible for medical cannabis, patients must be certified by a licensed physician who will indicate individuals have a medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed. Participants, who must be at least be 21 years of age, will need to register at a licensed dispensary and will be limited to 2.5 ounces every 14 days. Patients will also be required to be certified each 90 days.

Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, co-sponsor of the legislation in the House, said opioid abuse was becoming a full-blown crisis in the state, particularly in rural communities. “Expanding the use of medical cannabis as an alternative will reduce opioid use and help us truly get a handle on this epidemic. I applaud the governor for signing it into law.”

Opioid-related overdose deaths in Illinois jumped from 3.9 deaths per 100,000 persons in 1999 to 15.3 deaths in 2016.  More people died last year from opioid overdoses than fatal car accidents according to Senator Chris Nybo.

The related bill, Senate Bill 336 passed the Illinois House and Senate in May this year. The Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018 was effective immediately on signing by the Governor.

Governor Rauner says the law will also streamline the state’s cannabis card application process; accelerating review of the 400-600 applications received weekly. A provisional card will be provided to slash turnaround time.

The state’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act has been in place since August 2013.  There are currently 40 debilitating conditions listed that qualify for the program and approximately 55 dispensaries licensed to provide cannabis.

In other recent related news out of Illinois, Governor Rauner recently signed the Industrial Hemp Act, Senate Bill 2298 into law, enabling farmers in the state to grow the crop and striking industrial hemp from state’s noxious weeds list. Rep. Tim Butler was also the House sponsor for that bill.