On Wednesday, February 7th, 2018, the Illinois Senate Executive Committee overwhelmingly passed SB336 in a 16-1 passing. This is a bill that would allow people with opioid prescriptions to apply for a medical marijuana card. Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Republican from Bloomington, was the only No vote.
If it were to become a law, SB336 would amend the current Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program and allow patients who are currently prescribed opioids to apply for medical marijuana. The opioid crisis is raging out of control and it is great to see Illinois at least getting creative and getting ideas started on how they can fight this battle. As many know, medical cannabis has consistently shown to be a safer alternative, over the highly addictive and often deadly opioids.
According to SB336’s main sponsor, Democratic Senator Don Harmon of Oak Park, “Research shows that as the number of opioids prescribed has risen over the past few decades, so has opioid addiction, overdose and death. This is a crisis, and it is rapidly getting worse. Research has also shown that medical cannabis is a safe alternative treatment for the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed.”
Illinois however is not the only state battling the opioid crisis. Ohio is a state near the top of the list, with CNN reporting in August that a morgue in Montgomery County had run out of room with bodies from opioid-related deaths stacked floor to ceiling. “In the state of Ohio, I see between three to five patients a day in the emergency room due to opioid-related overdose or illnesses,” said David Yin, MD, an Emergency Room physician in Cleveland.
The Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program which first passed in 2013 defines what medical conditions qualify for medical cannabis therapies and include cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, seizures and several other medical conditions. If SB336 is passed, patients who are prescribed opioids would be able to apply for a medical marijuana card, and because of the opioid crisis and urgent need for intervention, would have the regular background checks and fingerprinting requirements waived for the first year.
As states around the country scramble to implement corrective programs to combat the opioid crisis, the implementation of medical cannabis programs is gaining momentum, fueled by both overwhelming urgency and immense public support. In Illinois alone, studies have shown that participants in the medical marijuana program have reported a 67% decrease in the use of opioids once they were given access to medical cannabis. “I think it’s important to understand we’ve got data now to show that this is working when making this available to people,” said State Senator Heather Steans, a Democrat from Chicago.