Illinois Makes it Legal to Replace Opioids with Marijuana
For those who believe marijuana could prove a safe, effective alternative to opioids, they are about to get a major test case in the state of Illinois.
Under a new law signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, doctors now can prescribe medical marijuana to patients who already have qualified for prescription opioid drugs such as OxyContin or Percocet.
The reason is straightforward. Prescription opioids are considered by the Centers for Disease Control to play a large part in the current epidemic of drug overdoses. The total number of opioid-related deaths reached about 72,000 in 2017, according to the agency.
In Illinois alone, almost 2,000 people died from an opioid overdose, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Combatting An Epidemic
When he signed the bill in late August, Rauner said the state is taking the measure because “we’ve got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic.” He also noted that research had clearly shown marijuana can prove an effective medicine for pain management.
Technically, the bill amends the state’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, but its scope is wider than that. Those who wish to use medical marijuana to replace opioids will not have to go through the process of getting fingerprinted or waiting on a background check. The bill also provides authorities the right to wave criminal marijuana charges against a “cultivation center agent, dispensing organization, qualifying patient, or designated caregiver” if the person can prove they violated the law as “the result of opioid addiction or dependence.”
Hemp Gets a Thumbs Up
The law officially goes on the books in December. The state also expects it will take into 2019 before a system to regulate the measure is developed.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that research into medical marijuana has found it is extremely effective in combating pain, adding that “initiatives like this frankly just make sense.”
The state of Illinois also recently delivered another victory for the legalized marijuana movement when Rauner signed a bill into law that lifts restrictions on the production of industrial hemp for commercial use.
Hemp can be used for many commercial purposes, including building materials, textiles, cosmetics and even food.
There is a minimal amount of THC, the naturally occurring chemical in marijuana that causes the high feeling, found in hemp. But it has remained controversial in some states. However, in recent years, more than half of U.S. states have allowed production of industrial hemp for commercial purposes.