Rauner Signs Bill Allowing Marijuana as Painkiller Alternative
Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill this week that could dramatically expand medical marijuana in Illinois. The bill would make medical marijuana available as an opioid painkiller replacement.
The new law is a response to the epidemic of overdose deaths due to narcotic abuse. It would allow doctors to authorize medical marijuana for any patient who has or would qualify for a prescription to opioids like OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin.
“We are creating an alternative to opioid addiction,” the governor said. “It’s clear that medical marijuana treats pain effectively, and is less addictive and disruptive than opioids.”
The measure is also noteworthy for removing major restrictions on the medical marijuana program currently in place in Illinois. Applicants will no longer have to be fingerprinted or undergo criminal background checks.
“Initiatives like this frankly just make sense,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. According to Shah, research has shown clear evidence that marijuana can be effective in treating pain and can reduce opioid use.
Shah said the elimination of background checks and fingerprinting for applicants goes into effect immediately, and all patients may now get provisional approval to buy medical marijuana immediately upon receiving a receipt for payment from the state health department.
But it will take the state until Dec. 1 to implement all the new rules of the program, and it 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 or buy marijuana for more than 90 days at a time. The 90-day period can be renewed by patients’ doctors.