Illinois opioid patients may soon have medical cannabis alternative
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is expected to take action on a bill that would give opioid patients the option to use medical cannabis to treat their pain.
Rauner’s office said he is currently reviewing the bill and will act on it by Tuesday’s deadline. If the governor vetoes the measure, the Legislature can override the move with a three-fifths vote in both houses.
The bill, dubbed the Alternatives to Opioids Act, would significantly expand the state’s medical cannabis pilot program by giving people who have been prescribed opioids the opportunity to obtain a temporary medical cannabis card.
Under the bill, temporary access could not exceed 90 days, although a doctor could re-certify a patient after that point. The measure would also eliminate requirements for temporary patients to submit to background checks and fingerprinting.
It’s unclear how many new patients the legislation would bring to the state’s medical cannabis program or how much additional revenue would be generated, according to state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who co-sponsored the bill alongside state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago.
Bob Morgan, Illinois’ former medical cannabis czar, estimated that the measure would help “tens of thousands of people in Illinois” who would be granted expedited access to a medical cannabis card.
“The Act adds an important new tool for physicians in Illinois — allowing a doctor to issue a medical cannabis certification instead of prescribing highly-addictive opioids,” Morgan added.
Lawmakers from both parties have rallied around the bill as they search for new ways to respond to the mounting toll of the opioid crisis.
In 2016, 1,946 people died in Illinois from opioid overdoses, nearly twice the number of people killed in fatal crashes in the state, according to the most recent data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Overall opioid deaths in Illinois increased 82 percent between 2013 and 2016, according to the IDPH, which attributed the spike to the rise of synthetic painkilers like fentanyl.
“It certainly does seem to have grown out of control,” Harmon told the Sun-Times earlier this year. “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.”