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New Law Allows Medical Marijuana to Replace Opioids in Illinois

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Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has signed the Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018, which allows those who might otherwise seek opioids for pain management to be eligible for medical marijuana.

“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,” the governor said. “This is not about personal opinions about cannabis. It’s about giving people more control over their own health care and pain-relief options.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports opioid deaths in Illinois increased 13%from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, the Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that states with medical marijuana programs have seen a 14.4% decrease in the use of prescription opioids.

The new law, Senate Bill 336, puts in place a pilot program that will not compromise patient safety or diminish medical marijuana program standards, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Licensed doctors must certify an individual has a medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed. Participants must register at a licensed dispensary. The program is limited to individuals 21 and older. Dispensations are limited to 2.5 ounces every 14 days and cannot exceed 90 days per physician certification.

The Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018 also allows those applying for a medical cannabis registry card for one of the qualified conditions to access medical cannabis while their application is being reviewed.

“Dealing with the opioid crisis in Illinois is a top priority for this administration, and it is one that requires innovative solutions,” Rauner said before the bill signing at Chicago Recovery Alliance this afternoon. “This law will help people avoid opioid addiction and that will save lives.”

“Opioids can be highly addictive in a very short period of time,” said IDPH Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah. “Because the number of opioid deaths continues to rise in Illinois, although at a much slower pace, we understand a person’s hesitancy in filling an opioid prescription. The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program will offer people another option in managing pain.”

“Senate Bill 336 is a sincere, bipartisan effort to address the opioid crisis in our country,” said Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, who attended today’s signing. “If a patient has been prescribed an opioid, by allowing them to use medical marijuana under the direction of a doctor, we are giving them a safer alternative to treat pain. In Illinois, more people died last year from opioid overdoses than fatal car accidents. We have to address this dangerous epidemic.”

“We’re facing a full-blown crisis in Illinois, especially in our rural communities, with the opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who co-sponsored the legislation in the House. “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.”

“The opioid crisis is getting worse at an alarming rate,” said Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. “This law gives people a chance to act quickly and pursue a safe, alternative treatment if they choose. I am thankful for the support I received from both sides of the aisle, to the governor for signing this measure into law, and to all of the partners and advocates who helped make it happen.”

The Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018 is effective immediately.