A proposal to approve medical marijuana as a substitute for opioid-based medications to cut down on abuse and addiction is close to becoming a reality in Illinois.
The General Assembly voted on the measure Monday, sending it to the desk of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for final approval. Rauner historically opposes expansions to the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program, however, following passage of the bill by the Senate in April, a spokesman for the governor said Rauner was open to “any and all possible solutions” to solving the national opioid epidemic, reports the Associated Press.
In addition to opening up access to marijuana for patients suffering from chronic pain, the bill removes previous rules requiring patients seeking medical marijuana to go through criminal background checks and fingerprinting. Advocates say this will streamline the process, eliminating the current four-month approval process for medical marijuana prescriptions. (RELATED: Doctors Are Turning To Marijuana To Treat Opioid Addiction)
“The only two things I know for certain is, opioids kill people, and marijuana does not,” state Sen. Don Harmon, the chief sponsor of the measure, told the Chicago Tribune.
Supporters argue cannabis can serve as a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain without opioids, drastically reducing the risk for addiction and death from an overdose.
There are currently 40 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in the state, including cancer and AIDS, that serves roughly 27,000 patients. Under the proposed legislation a significantly larger portion of the population will now qualify for medical marijuana.
A study published in 2017 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found in states with legal weed hospital visits for complications from prescription painkillers are dropping. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.
Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses are on average 13 percent lower than states without medical marijuana programs.
Medical researchers do not claim pot will “solve” the opioid epidemic, but the study adds to a growing body of evidence that marijuana can be an effective alternative to the painkillers that often lead to heroin abuse and death.