Yesterday, Illinois lawmakers cast an important vote. In response to the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, the Illinois Senate voted to give opioid addicts access to medical marijuana. Considering the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program and a spike in opioid-related hospital visits last year, this is a significant medical victory for Illinois.
Temporary Access To Medical Marijuana
The bill passed 44 to 6 in the Illinois Senate. It mandates that opioid-addiction patients will receive a twelve-month medical marijuana card, requiring doctor approval. Only with the proper approvals can dispensary employees prescribe medical marijuana.
There will, however, be a strict limit on how much cannabis opioid addicts can buy. Every two weeks, patients can get 2.5 ounces maximum.
Eventually, opioid addicts could qualify for permanent medical marijuana cards. If the side effects of their addiction continue after the trial 12-month period, patients can request a full-fledged card.
This would also give people prescribed opioids for pain access to marijuana. Rebecca Mason, Director of Communications for the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois explained that the way the law stands, opioids are the only pain killer option for many.
“Illinois has a series of qualifying conditions [for medical marijuana], but we don’t have a chronic pain condition,” Mason said. “So if you have an illness that is causing you pain but isn’t on the debilitating conditions list, and your physician would write you an opioid prescription, at the moment you could not talk with your physician, or make the decision to use medical cannabis.”
The Bill Had Wide-Reaching Political Support
Democratic State Senator Don Harmon sponsored the legislation. He told the Chicago Tribune, “When people ask me if we are not simply creating a gateway, I tell people this: I don’t know if cannabis is addictive, but I do know this: Opioids and heroin kills people, cannabis does not.”
Even the Republican Governor Bruce Rauner does not oppose medical marijuana for opioid addicts.
Medical marijuana advocates in Illinois see this legislation as progress, including the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois. “We, the dispensaries, see, first hand, what a difference it can make for patients,” Mason comments.
Not Everyone Sees Illinois’ Legislation As Altruistic
Republican State Senator Kyle McCarter took a stand against Illinois’ new marijuana bill. He argues that legislators only want medical marijuana because they have a financial stake in its success. With the number of new patients who would now qualify for cannabis, dispensaries stand to make a lot more money.
Senator McCarter explains, “I just want to make note and remind people that the medical marijuana program was lobbied by people who now own it.”
And he isn’t wrong. In 2017, medical marijuana supporters donated $8,000 to Senator Harmon’s campaign.
Medical Marijuana Benefits People With Opioid Addictions
Campaign donations aside, medical marijuana is one of the most effective treatments for opioid addicts. Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently outlined how medical marijuana could heal the nation’s opioid epidemic in a letter to Jeff Sessions.
Per Dr. Gupta, there are three ways cannabis can treat opioid addiction. First, it is an effective painkiller that also targets the source of the pain: inflammation. Marijuana also diminishes the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, specifically vomiting and loss of appetite. It can also help repair neurotransmitters damaged by opioid use.
Opioid-Related Deaths Are More and More Common
Last year, 45,000 Americans died from opioid-related causes. Rebecca Mason told High Times, “Our state government did a study and estimated that by 2020, 2700 people in Illinois will die from an overdose.”
It would seem that, as a result, even the staunchest of medical marijuana opponents are desperate to find a way to curb this epidemic.
Back in December, Governor Rauner had some scathing things to say about marijuana.
“I do not support legalizing marijuana,” he announced. “I think that’s a mistake. You know there’s a massive, human experiment going on in Colorado, and California, other places. We should see how that’s impacted lives and addiction and hurt young people before we make any decision about it here.”
Today, however, the Governor has not publically denounced the newest medical marijuana legislation.
The Future of Illinois’ Medical Marijuana Progam
As the Illinois Senate votes to give medical marijuana to opioid addicts, the state’s entire deficient program enters the spotlight. Though the majority of Illinois residents support recreational marijuana, the state has had difficulty maintaining a functional medical cannabis program.
Though Illinois legalized medical marijuana in 2013, patients didn’t have access until 2015. To make matters more difficult, the largest bank that worked with dispensaries, the Bank of Springfield, told its marijuana industry customers that they will no longer be welcome. This happened earlier this month
Hopefully, this extension to Illinois’ medical marijuana program symbolizes a sea-change in the state’s less than progressive cannabis policy.